Tag Archives: long distance walk

The London Outer Orbital Path, 2013 / 2014

The LOOP index.
Day 1 – Erith to Petts Wood, 15½ miles.
Day 2 – Petts Wood to Hamsey Green, 19 miles.
Day 3 – Hamsey Green to Banstead Downs, 11 miles.
Day 4 – Banstead Downs to Kingston Bridge, 11 miles.
Day 5 – Kingston Bridge to Hatton Cross, 8½ miles.
Day 6 – Hatton Cross to Uxbridge, 12½ miles.
Day 7 – Uxbridge to Moor Park, 10½ miles.
Day 8 – Moor Park to Elstree, 14 miles.
Day 9 – Elstree to Enfield Lock, 20 miles.
Day 10 – Enfield Lock to Harold Wood, 21miles.
Day 11 – Harold Wood to Purfleet, 13miles.

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Looping the LOOP – “the M25 for walkers.”

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Day 7 – Uxbridge to Moor Park, 10½ miles.

The forecast said rain today, so prepared for rain I went. Turned out it was to be a lovely day – lovely overheard anyways. Also I didn’t want to be wandering through strange woods in the dark, being aware of the shortened hours of daylight, so I made sure my torch was working and put it somewhere obvious so I’d remember to take it. But I forgot it, predictably.

So after a brief, but not brief enough scurry through the pedestriansed shopping centre of Uxbridge once past the Crown & Treaty pub, where apparently an attempt at a peace treaty as made during the civil war although it looks very much like it has been rebuilt since the war. The Guldf Ware, we’re back on the Grand Union Canal, and lovely it looks too in the soft winter sunlight. This is Uxbridge lock and the last lock on the canal until the Hampstead Road lock in Camden Town some 20 miles west. The slight disturbance in the water just before the bridge is the cooling water from the electricity cables under the towpath discharging back into the canal. Disappointingly it’s not in the slightest warm – I checked.


After this lock somewhere is the site of the old King’s Mill, where flour had been milled for a thousand years. I couldn’t see any sign of it, but William King’s old mill now gives it name to a popular brand of Chorleywood bread.
We pass another all-important Braunston mile post, and a derelict boat. I wonder if anyone’s doing anything with it…?


The river Colne flows nearby for some way along this stretch, and we see more boat work going on. This time it’s a boat in a boat. Someone once told me that the definition of a boat is “something that goes on ships”, so I wonder if this is actually a boat in a ship?


Denham lock is the deepest lock on the whole canal – 11ft, owing to it being just after an aqueduct over Fray’s River.


Like the last stage we now leave the canal and wander off down some very boring wide path – The Quarry Trail – between the canal and some large lakes. Many joggers huff and puff their way past. The only real point of interest is a large railway viaduct. When we rejoin the canal we pass a very sad-looking crazy golf course.


Back on the canal we’re not at Black Jack’s Lock. Black Jack was a slave of yesterday who was sold with the land the Domesday-era mill was on. Apparently he and his donkey & cart delivered flour, and there’s a picture on the wall of the mill-now-a-tea-room to prove. I wonder what he’d think now if he could know he was immortalised in canal navigation?


Further along the by the weir providing water for Black Jack there’s nice peaceful hippy’s garden. Or it would be if it wasn’t by a noisy weir. And we leave the canal again… passing but a huge old copper mill and the former-owner’s now empty home. The guide tells us that the copper for the dome of St Paul’s was made here according to legend. You’d think someone would know for sure!


We miss the turning just after the copper-mill as it’s not signed posted. Once again it must be my fault for reading the guide in advance! In fact, yes it was my fault. When will I ever learn! Not today it would soon become apparent…
Park Wood promises much, but it’s not much more than a steep climb and a fenced-in path.
This stretch is described as “keeping away from settlements” which sounds nice, but as by now i was very peckish and hadn’t brought any provisions it was more of an inconvenience. So I was very much relieved to see Rose & Crown just up ahead. Cheers!


Leaving the pub we head off into some very pleasant meadows and farmland. And the guide starts wittering on about some golf course. A golf course that you can’t see at all, until you miss the turning and carry on the wrong way – which I did. The turning is actually a rather anonymous looking gap in some trees and again not signposted. A tad annoying. But not as annoying as the mud that was too with me for the next mile or so, and then on & off for the rest of the day until the Tube station taking me home. I don’t mind getting muddy but walking through mud is such a bloody tedious pain, and so it all became painfully tedious after not very long.


A rickety bridge and a pylon directly straddling the path help distract from the mud briefly.


We finally emerge from the muddy-woods at a junction on a busy main road, and a sign pointing the way to London. How far from London have we come if there are signs pointing back towards “London”!?
The junction is by a pub called Ye Olde Greene Manne, and like every pub that may be possibly pre-Victorian Dick Turpin came here. The guide tells us, according to “story”, that he escaped through the back while the Bow Street Runners came through the front. You’d think that even a fledgling police force would have thought of this. But there again as by my reckoning Dick Turpin was hanged in 1739, the Bow Street Runners weren’t founded until ten years later I’d take this particular Turpin-tale with a pinch of salt.
Just down the road we see a coal-tax post, meaning we officially back in the London. So the sign-post 100yds up the road wasn’t pointing far!


The path directly opposite the coal-tax post logically follows the Middlesex / Herts border and takes us all the to the rather nice and very well-heeled suburban housing estate of Moor Park. But the mud doesn’t stop here! Footpath no.51 takes us under some trees that form a tunnel so dark and water-logged it’s more like a canal tunnel.


The next tunnel we come too, under the Metropolitan Line that will taking us back in to town, is restricted to 30mph. Looking at the tightness and the approaching bend you wonder why any speed restriction is necessary at all. 3mph is a more likely speed than 30.
Then we see an unusual sight – a three way split of the LOOP. We take the muddy path that leads us home, darkness is setting in and a torch would be very handy!


Like I said I don’t mind getting muddy at all – indeed one of the benefits is that no-one sits next to you on the Tube!

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Day 8 – Moor Park to Elstree, 14 miles.

The forecast had said rain today, from 10am until 3pm. And not just rain but heavy rain. But by the time I’d started walking from Moor Park at 11.30am it was still day. Cloudy but dry, so maybe they’d got the forecast wrong. Again!



The local authority round here is Three Rivers. Odd to have the council not named after the geographical area. As I started tramping through Oxhey Woods I wondered if I was walking in one of the council’s said rivers. It had obviously been raining a lot already! And then it started to rain again. And it wouldn’t stop until I’d got to a cafe for a warming sausage roll at the end of the day.


But no matter – I’d got my waterproofs on, and walking in the rain is invigorating right?! It’s the not the rain that’s the problem – like the last stage it’s walking through the bloody mud. Mud gets very tedious very quickly. On leaving the woods not only was I glad they were doing their best to get rid of the horrible rhododendrons but also glad to walking along a med-free road. Even the uninspiring bridge over the WCML made a welcome change!


After getting battered and blown about trying to march up the Grim’s Dyke golf course through horizontal rain (oddly not many golfers out today…) we get to glimpse the eponymous dyke itself. But annoying the path takes a turn off the track here, exactly opposite the dyke’s explanatory plaque, so I missed it and was quite puzzled for a short while to figure out where I should be going.


One of the less glamorous way markers put be back on track though!

A little further on we come across Grim’s Dyke Lake, where WS Gilbert died in 1911 trying to rescue a girl who’d slipped in and got into a pickle. A poignant moment and a spooky setting – I tried to remember a few librettos as I passed. The good thing about this rotten weather is that no-one else is about to hear you heartily and badly belting out a bit of G&S loudly to yourself in the woods! Apparently Lady Gilbert had the lake drained after William Schwenck died… but we have had a lot of rain lately!

The guide says that the picnic area off Old Redding (the name of the road) offers wonderful panoramic views across London. Not today it doesn’t! The curiously named “The Case is Altered” is where you really want to be on a day like this. But alas not for me.



I quite liked the address of the house just up the road from the pub. Across the road in a sort of bus-shelter there was an information board explaining what The City was, but I can’t remember now! I do remember being impressed by the theory of Bazalgette’s intercepting sewers being demonstrated in the path I was walking along on Harrow Weald Common.



As we walk through Bentley Priory Open Space the guide now says that we can see glimpses of the famous mansion-house used by the RAF during the war here, but I see nothing. Just a pillbox reminding us of the importance of the site.



Shortly after here, my the rain got the better of my phone and the lens of the camera became so misted up that no more photos were possible. Ironically the only thing really worth taking a photo of now was actually the rain, as it get heavier and heavier. The track through a stud farm became a rushing torrent of muddy rain-water and hay flotsam.

Shortly afterwards the walk presented an irresistible shortcut! Warren Lane will do for me thank you!

Only I missed the turning and ended up going as far as Wood Lane, but at least this gave me opportunity to shelter out of the rain courtesy of some Islamic retreat or something. Once back on track the rain started to let up a bit as we passed the Adenham Reservoir, but I thought twice about the next obvious shortcut along Allum Lane this time. After slogging through a horrible water-logged farm and a very boring golf course I wish I had taken it! But shortly after this we at Elstree & Borehamwood Station – it’s just like Hollywood, Hollywood on a very rainy day.Top

Day 9 – Elstree to Enfield Lock, 20 miles.

Today was going to be my longest day so far, but not to worry – the weather looked good and Elstree is by far the easiest starting point on the LOOP to get from my house. So in under an hour from leaving home I was off.
After a lengthy climb through suburbia we spy some green – although still on a very busy road.
I’m sure I heard a train whizz under the Midland main-line ventilation tunnels which I’d just passed under myself half an hour earlier. I’m also sure I saw some movement amongst the rooftop menagerie on top the chocolate-box Little Manor – but it might just have been the traffic thundering past making them wobble.



After passing through the pleasant and ancient Scratchwood, it’s somewhat disheartening to be walking alongside the A1. And walking alongside it for sometime. Getting to the underpass involves a detour of a good mile. I did consider scampering across the dual carriage ways, but a pesky fence in the central reservation has been put there presumably to prevent people doing to just that.



With Scratchwood (below) far behind us now we pass by some nice new houses – one of them seemingly occupied by Scooby Doo.



Once in Totteridge Fields the mud begins. It’s nice today but the mud is still tenaciously hanging on. And often at narrow paths where you’re hemmed in by hedgerow so you have little alternation but to trudge through it. Most annoying! You’d think the juvenile Dollis Brook might help to drain it here but the mud is sticking, and stick it does.



We follow the Dollis Brook for some time. I like the LOOP signs on this stage: They do all they have to! I’m not so sure about some of the exterior decor when we emerge in to High Barnet though.



Arrival in Barnet was confirmed by the old BUDC marker post, but the “LOOP Pub” the Old Red Lion tempting as it was had to be left for another day. Sadly I wasn’t quick enough with the camera-phone to record the car whose number plate was “BED M3” as he/she tore off down the A110.



Here I spy an irresistible short-cut and shamelessly ignore the King’s Park and cut through the Tudor Park Housing estate. Thus missing out on Dr Livingstone’s house, I presume, but making it into Monken Hadley Wood a little quicker.
No time to play on the twin-swings in the woods but the Monken beast looked friendly enough. I gave him a stone to eat and she was happy.



The meaning of the feather-tree isn’t explained in my guide, but its claim that “it’s worth diverting to take in the surprising view of Jack’s Lake” is a little exaggerated I think.



But Pymme’s Brook looks picturesque enough despite being culverted in concrete. It shortly takes on the Shirebourne before wending its way to join the Lea at Tottenham – for those interested!
After a very welcome stop off at the Cockfosters M&S Simply Food we enter Trent County Park and pass the nice gate house.



Into the park proper now, part of the old Enfield Chase – a Royal hunting forest with 4000 swine in 1086 apparently, and in the distance we see a mysterious obelisk in the distance. We also pass by the moody Camlet Moat. Beware witches here!



On the way out past a rare GLC farm sign we get a much better view of the mysterious obelisk. All the guide says it that’s from 1702. But according to the internet that’s not quite right but it’s interesting what these 18th Century rich folk did with their money.



The view back down Cuckold’s Hill is much nicer than the average cuckold’s. And with the view the other way looking down to Rectory Farm it’s hard to believe we’re still in London sometimes.



At this stage of the day the instruction by the Turkey Brook at Rectory Farm not to gallop was gladly heeded!



Next we find ourselves in Turkey. Turkey Street station, the Turkey Pub and the Turkey Brook never far away. Albany Park is very pleasant in the warmth of the lowering sun.
Maiden Bridge, according to the guide, is where Sir Walter Raleigh laid down his cloak for the Queen to cross. I’m not so sure, but was more interesting in the warning to traction engine drivers instead. By the time I got to Enfield Lock station I was glad I hadn’t chosen to cycle along this particular cycle lane!



Time for a quick light ale and packet of salt & vinegar in the Railway Inn – quick so thy didn’t notice the amount of mud I had with me – and off home for another day. Top

Day 10 – Enfield Lock to Harold Wood, 21miles.

Another long day today so up bright & early. And a nice bright day it’s looking too – although the forecast says rain all afternoon, so the kaghoul is at the ready.

Starting off back alongside the Turkey Brook in Enfield I couldn’t help wondering what the ramp is for down into the sorry little river. Surely no-one was launching boats in it were they? No sign of any such activity now, just as there were no signs of any swans or pike in Swan and Pike pool.



Apparently the old Royal Smallarms Factory is around here somewhere, where the Lee Enfield rifle came from, but I couldn’t see it. But not to worry – up ahead there is a bridge with “fancy steel work on it”. Stopping off to feed some irresistible little Shetlands, I couldn’t help but be a tad let down by the said steel work. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say!



Leaving the Lee and the reservoirs behind by crossing a flood relief channel, we’re presented by some very rural unLondony scenes indeed. Firstly, Netherhouse Farm.



Then the view from the Sewardstone Hills, were I made friends with a 4-month old Belgian shepherd called Molly who’d been barking at me all the way up. The directions left me wondering how to get out of the fields here but eventually I made my way back to the road, passing by the rather idyllic Carroll’s Farm on the way.



After Gilwell Park, home of the Scouts, I was quite prepared for Epping Forest.



I wasn’t quite prepared for all the mud though, and was glad the Corp of London has banned horse riding here through Hawk Wood they obviously don’t help.
The guide tells us that golfers of Chingford are “forced by ancient law” to wear red so the y can be seen (and avoided it says). Clearly not enforced these days! Probably as people are quite happy to avoid the golfers of Chingford no matter what they’re wearing!



After Chingford we pass Queen Elizabeth’s hunting lodge, built in 1543. Open all day and free entry, sadly we don’t have time for a visit today. The Butlers cafe next door looked like an ideal spot for a break but alas it had already been utilised by some awful noisy people so I passed up and stopped off about a mile later, and enjoyed a quick sarnie looking down towards Chingford Plain.



It was about here that it started to rain. That light rain that gets you wet! And continues all steadily all day. The khagoul came out and did its job… I just wish I’d brought my waterproof trousers too!

Much more rurality and wildlife reserves and like come before Buckhurst Hill. Not long after which we pass through Roding Valley Nature Reserve, and the river Roding. The lake was dug to provide gravel for the M11 – which we could hear long before we saw it. A slight navigational error meant it took longer get to it than intended. The map here just shows the path passing through a plain white area, when it reality it’s in the middle of some woods criss-crossed by paths isn’t helpful.



But we find our way out of the woods, and cross the M11. Disappointingly no-one waved at us. The lovley Tudory Ye Olde King’s Head is apparently the most famous pub in Essex. A claim to fame indeed. Famous enough for Dickens to include in Barnaby Rudge.



Leaving the roads for some farmland, the map become not terribly helpful again, and the directions vague : “Veer left into the paddock diagonally opposite and if there isn’t a patch made clear diagonally through the crop turn left to follow the paddock’s edge along the bottom…” etc. This might be of some use if the directions could refer to points on the map, but the map again is just a large blank area with the route criss-crossing through it. We were not passing through a large white area!
Anyways, we just blazed our way through the ploughed field, hoping that the farmer didn’t take pot-shots at us.
Into muddy Hainault Wood we were lucky not to splash through this particular puddle – the stick in it was easily over 3ft long!!



Here we got very lost. Well, not lost – I knew exactly where I was thanks to my GPS – but I couldn’t place myself on the LOOP map. The guide says “carry on straight ahead, ignoring all lefts & rights until you get to some water”. But I never did get to any water. Perhaps distracted by the tree which briefly looked like a humanesque woodland monster, I think with hindsight I got to a split which was more of a Y junction and just carried on up the wrong path which ended up taking me completely the wrong way. Again, a featureless map with no North pointer,vague directions, and information points in the forest with no “You are here” pointer on them didn’t help. I had no idea where the path was, but just made my way towards Havering-atte-Bower. As I got near I spied a line of giant sequoias – I should have been on the avenue that’s lined by them.



The big round tower the guide correctly says we can’t miss was apparently once the home of Joseph Hardwick Pemberton (“a true giant in the world of rose breeding”). Looks more like a water tower to me, but what do I know. I do know that the path would be soon blocked if this steaming pile of horse shite encroached any further. But it wouldn’t matter, it’s not actually on the LOOP path – I’d just wandered up to sit down on a covered bench.



What are these fancy old gateposts doing in the middle of nowhere?? They mark the entrance to what was once Pyrgo House where a young Mary and Elizabeth happily grew up together – now only these “time defying rusting sentinels” remain of it.



Another unintentional detour now, but more the fault of no clear markers on the ground. You do get used to relying on markers on a walk like this, which is clearly not a good idea. You’re actually supposed to take a sharp left at the blue barrel. Look out for it! Otherwise you might never see the rickety slippery bridge some time after.



Damp legged and a little chilly I was happy to see some blue skies again at last as we approached Harold Wood. Named after King Harold – Harold Godwinson II, him of the arrow in the eye. I wasn’t so happy to be sent down through some trees in a very overgrown and not very pleasant stretch of muddy woodland alongside Carter’s Brook by Priory Lane, just to pop up again back at the road a short time later. It’s as if the local hoodlums had turned the signs round to lead us astray. I’d just stick to the road if I was ever here again.
Never straying far from the brook we pass through Central Park and its three random inhabitants, before a lengthy urban stroll to make it just in time for the next train home.
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Day 11 – Harold Wood to Purfleet, 13miles.

My my – the last day of the LOOP, and hasn’t it come round quickly? Seems like only a year ago we were starting off plodding through Erith. How the time flies! And what a nice day for it. I was pondering which coat to take but as it turned out I didn’t need a coat at all, and almost didn’t come one with one! But more of that later.

After leaving the station and passing Aethelstand and Ethelburg (Roads) we head along the oddly pleasant Archibald Road before getting to Harold Wood Park. The mower was out on the cricket pitch heralding the approaching summer, but thankfully the teenagers were not out in the “teenage area”.
Crossing the Ingrebourne we head in to Pages Wood – although the welcoming Rainbow Arch at the entrance wasn’t there. The disappointment of being promised a rainbow that isn’t there…!
But that was the only let-down the guide had for us in Pages Wood. At the junction in the photo below right, the directions very clearly say “Turn left here then right over the bridge and onto the permissive footpath.” It actually means “turn right here then over the bridge…”. Oh well, at least we didn’t get lost. Not yet anyways.



Marching on through much open farmland – past a rowdy cheering school, I wonder what was going on there??, we come to a hungry little pony who stamped his little hoof demanding the lush grass just beyond his fence. How could we resist treating him to a few handfuls? He was still stamping as we reluctantly left. It was getting rather warm now.



Getting to the end of the farmland the guide instructs to look back over the Ingrebourne valley, and a nice view it is. But it also says to look out for the “unmistakable outline of a windmill” – I couldn’t see it anywhere. Maybe I mistook it for something else.
After the built up area around Upminster Bridge we’re back along the Ingrebourne.



We stick with the Ingrebourne through the very pleasant Hornchurch Country Park, still full of relics from when it was a wartime airfield.

At the end of the Park we pass Albyns Farm Lake before careful avoiding the mountain bikes zooming about the Ingrebourne Hill Bike Park, which wasn’t difficult because there weren’t any.



Approaching the outskirts we come across these oddities by a car-park. The blue things are I think fun-speaking tubes for the kiddies to play with. But the other construction – white bowls on the black poles of various heights but all aligned the same way, with some steps at the back – I have no idea about. Any clues readers…?

But more confusion was to follow. As  we approach a large Tesco’s, the directions say “Once past the Tesco petrol station the unexpectedly attractive village of Rainham comes into view”. So we pass the petrol station and follow a sign for Rainham village – I don’t recall seeing any LOOP signs here. But alas this takes us into the wrong bit of Rainham, and although unexpectedly attractive it did indeed all go wrong here. Firstly I stopped off for a bite to eat, that culminated in the horriblest Magnum I have had for a long time. Then I carried on along the High Street towards the station. For some time I saw neither any station sign-posts or LOOP way markers and quickly figured out I’d gone the wrong way. So headed back. But one I’d got back to rejoin the correct path I realised I’d dropped my jacket at some point (it was draped over my shoulder bag) so went back to retrace my wrong steps to find it, which thankfully some kind soul had picked up and placed on some railings and returned again to the join the path. But then I realised I the directions and map had fallen out of my pocket too!! So again I had to march along back up the High Street to hunt them down. Rather hot and bothered now I pondered carrying on without them figuring they’d probably blown away or gone under a car or goodness knows what. But luckily I found them and eventually rejoined the correct path, failing to see the humour in the going the same wrong way three times!



Back on track now we establish that guides claim that “it is well worth taking a moment to go over the footbridge opposite the Bell Inn to discover Rainham Creek Open Space” is basically bollocks, unless you want to marvel at some scruffy overgrown waste-ground and a railways, and having wasted a good half an hour “exploring” Rainham we have don’t have much time to enjoy Rainham Hall and carry on over the commuter line, the Channel Tunnel link and into Rainham marshes. The Thames can’t be far away now!



Briefly enjoying the shade under the A13 we continue through the marshes, passing the “500”. I have no idea what the “500” is.



Shortly after leaving the marshes we find ourselves back with what the guide rightly calls “an old friend” – an old friend we’ve not seen since Kingston, and my how you’ve grown! Nice to see you again Thames. Although this particularly bit isn’t very pleasant, the inclined concrete path is a bit overgrown and popular with the local flying insect population. It’s not until the Tilda factory that it gets a bit nicer. But then on it’s very nice indeed.



The path is wide, flat and level, with expansive views of the Thames on one side, and the odd bit of industry on the other. And a huge landfill site. But even that has started to grass over.
There’s also what looks like an evil diving robot marching out of the water to get us (which I originally thought was some sort of beacon or light but it turns out to be exactly what it looks like : an evil diving robot!), but we felt safe in the presence of the D-Day concrete barges, placed here in 1953 as a flood protection. Had the tide been further out I would’ve gone for a closer inspection, but not today.



The Coldharbour Point beacon passes by, as does a strange wooden post with a speaker, a switch and a winder. I wound the winder and switched the switch but nothing came out of the speaker. I hope I didn’t cause any life-boat alerts or such like!



No time to sit down on the temptingly placed rotten old deck-chair as the end is in sight now. The actual patch follows the cycle path to left in the photo, but someone I found myself on the flood defence barrier and a much nicer route it was I think. I wondered why the route-proper doesn’t come along here until I got to the open gates at the end, where it rejoins the path, and are labelled “DANGER NO ENTRY” but I saw no danger, and recommend this way!



Into Purfleet now, past the RSPB Centre – a building so ugly it must surely scare away and sensible birds, and past the Gunpowder Magazine no.5. I would have loved to linger round here for a bit longer as it’s now the Purfleet Heritage and Military Centre but that will have to wait for some other time.



The excitement mounts as we enter in to down town Purfleet, passing the town crest and beacon. Just a few more yards to go until we’ve reached the end… the end of the LOOP! We about to have LOOPed London! What kind of congratulatory message will be waiting at the end…?? Will we be able to hold back the tears?! Will there be a souvenir shop or welcoming party? A free pint at the local???



Nope, none of that nonsense for us serious LOOPers. No message, no sign-post or notice, no nothing – not even a kestrel way-mark that had been guide for the last 152 miles or so. I did have a look about, to the bewilderment of the traffic held up at the level crossing but no, there’s nothing here. Just Purfleet station busy with homeward bound commuters. Not even a pub nearby! Maybe that’s the English way, no bragging, no big deal – just knowing that you’ve done is enough.
So we swiped in, and sat waiting for the train the to Fenchurch Street. The LOOP had been looped.

Finally, don’t forget to claim your special certificate – just in case people don’t believe you!

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The London Outer Orbital Path, 2013

The LOOP index.

Day 1 – Erith to Petts Wood, 15½ miles.
Day 2 – Petts Wood to Hamsey Green, 19 miles.
Day 3 – Hamsey Green to Banstead Downs, 11 miles.
Day 4 – Banstead Downs to Kingston Bridge, 11 miles.
Day 5 – Kingston Bridge to Hatton Cross, 8½ miles.
Day 6 – Hatton Cross to Uxbridge, 12½ miles.
Day 7 – Uxbridge to Moor Park, 10½ miles.
Day 8 – Moor Park to Elstree, 14 miles.
Day 9 – Elstree to Enfield Lock, 20 miles.
Day 10 – Enfield Lock to Harold Wood, 21miles.
Day 11 – Harold Wood to Purfleet, 13miles.

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Looping the LOOP – “the M25 for walkers.”

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It’s been a long cold lonely winter, as George Harrison once sang but now here comes the sun! So it must be time for a walk – the legs are rusty and need stretching, but with nothing organised it’s going to have to be an easy one. One almost on my door-step, a cheap one.

The London Outer Orbital Path – the LOOP – is it then. Rather worryingly billed as “the M25 for walkers” (except at 152 miles v. 117 miles it’s a fair bit longer)  I was hoping it would be more like the official quote : ” a great way to get to know London better”.

All the info you could possibly need is available for free online so, to paraphrase the Prancercise lady, let’s do some printing and let’s get walking.

Day 1 – Erith to Petts Wood, 15½  miles.

Alighting just 10 minutes later than planned at Erith, which given the lie-in I’d awarded myself wasn’t bad, the beginning of the LOOP isn’t the most inspiring, but then all walks must start somewhere and I’m sure that this walk isn’t going to be most picturesque walk anyways. The first signpost – always a reassuring sight – points out how many walks there are round here. All along the same path however, but still… nice to see lots of walks available!

But once away from the station approach and across the road we’re at the Thames. And it all looks pretty much the same as it did last time I was here when I was nearing the end of the Thames Path. One walk ends and another one starts! And pleasingly the air wasn’t thick with drizzle today.


I don’t remember the horse though from last time. There’s a notice with a number to ring if you’ve got any worries about it. His enclosure was so dry and barren I thought about ringing it to complain on his behalf. Anyways, a few handfuls of grass went down well and he saw me off briefly before returning to his bale of hay.

A few more roads and houses and backs of supermarkets and past the little pedestrian symbol with his yellow hat again and the country opens up, and we’re at last in fresh-air. The Thames is wide, and the marshes are salty.

But just behind us there’s still much industry.

And interestingly a large radar tower and what I believe is the Crayford Ness lighthouse, but annoyingly didn’t think to take a photo, obviously I more interested in a crane chucking about scrap iron. So you’ll just have to go and see yourselves.

We’re only alongside the Thames for a short while, and as we get to Crayford Creek with the QEII bridge still some way off we turn away and say farewell to the old big River, for a good few days anyways. We’ll see it again at Kingston – a very different looking river!

Most of the rest of the day is going to be spent on the Cray Riverway, although at this point we’re actually alongside the Darent. And it looks to me like its flood barrier is down. I wonder if they were expecting some impending tidal doom?! The marshes here are one of the few remaining areas of Thames grazing marsh in London – and lots of horses seem to be taking advantage.

After a couple of miles trekking inland through the marsh tidal plains of the Darent and Cray, we hit a few more roads and recycling plants, before returning to the Cray. Here it looks more like a canal. We’re told that the reeds here are common reeds – Britain’s tallest grass. It can reach 10feet high on a good day. We’re told nothing of the Cray monster caught on the bridge though.

This stretch of the Cray is quite penned in by backs of houses on one side and light industry on the other. There was a bit of urban wildlife about – a fox must have had his eyes on the bunny rabbit before he saw me and scarpered. And the cormorant was frustratingly camera-shy.

We then find ourselves in buzzing Crayford town centre, in a small park in the middle of two parades of shops. Many of the shops have the word “Cray” in the name, so I was disappointed that the chippy I bought my lunch-time pie from was just called “The Parade Fish Bar” rather than some humourous punning “Cray Fish” or “Chips n Cravy” type thing. Although I was barely 4 or 5 miles in the late-ish start meant this was a good place to stop, and very pleasant too. Thankfully the octopus didn’t get me on the way out.



More urban walking now through Crayford, although there are some historical notes here that my pdf pamphlet is keen to point out. The Bear and Ragged Staff was the badge of the Earl of Stafford, who was killed in the Wars of the Roses in the Battle of Barnet just after he’d joined the Lancies. It doesn’t say what his connection with Crayford was though.

Then at a car showroom we’re told that the attractive gate posts are all that’s left of the old Crayford cinema – progress! We’re then back into open country, well playing fields at least. And at this point the instructions let me down somewhat. They say, and I quote, “At point (E) [heading from London Road] … ignore the first bridge but cross at the second one and turn left… follow the hedge and cross the little creek…”. Simple! So I followed the instructions but when I emerged on the other side, via the 2nd bridge, I turned left but something felt wrong. I could see a hedge and see a little creek but I was nowhere near them going away from them. Most confusing!
The map showed no bridges and no hedge, this is what it should have shown (I’ve added the bridges and hedge myself) :

Count the bridges… yes, there’s three not two. The LOOPer should really ignore the first two bridges and cross at the third to avoid being rather puzzled at the mark of the ?. Anyways, only a small confusion. And we’re soon back on track. No time sadly to visit Hall Place (“a fine Tudor mansion, with paneled great hall, minstrel’s gallery and fine plaster ceiling decorations…”) but its award-winning gardens look very nice.

Much nicer than the A2 which accompanies us for a short while! But the A2 is soon forgotten as we enter Churchfield Wood and its blooming wood anemones. We take a crafty short-cut, or rather a long-cut through the grave-yard of St Mary’s as I do like a good grave-yard, and we’re in Bexley.

Bexley, and its quaint tiny pavements, has shops! So refreshments were taken here. The good thing about the LOOP is you don’t have to pack much – you’re never far from a shop or cafe or pub or such, but of course there’s pros & cons to this! A long open path through open land – possibly an old landfill site – and farm-land takes us past a pumping station and back to the Cray.

The Cray here is very picturesque, especially with its 1780 brick weir-bridge. Foots Cray meadows beyond makes for a pleasant stretch. Unlike Foots Cray High Street and its unfeasibly huge crossroads. You don’t have to be away from traffic for very long for you to get used to not seeing traffic.


The football ground we pass is, we’re told, the home of Cray Wanderers who are one of the oldest football clubs in the country, founded in the 1860s. But the sign saying “Seven Acre and Sidcup FC” and indeed the internet suggest Cray Wanderers play somewhere else.
This little bit seems to be the scout hut & allotment district as the fenced in tarmac path takes us on way. Plenty of garden birds are to be heard, although not always seen. This house sparrow was just waiting to have his photo taken though!

Up a long shallow hill, towards “majestic giant redwoods” and a “great view back into the valley” neither of which were unpleasant but neither of I got excited about enough to include a photo of here either. At the top though there is a rather grand looking pub, with a nice looking walled garden. I didn’t have time to pop in though, and now having read up on it I’m quite glad. Type “The Bickley, Chislehurst” into your favoured search-engine…


After negotiating a rather disorienting Sidcup bypass underpass, we’re in the very nice Scadbury Park with its fine oak and birch woodland. And jays… and bloody parakeets!

Scadbury Park changes effortlessly into Petts Wood, the change being marked only by crossing St Paul’s Cray Road (the Cray is never far away, even in name only!)

The wood is owned by the National Trust, and part of it is the Willet Memorial Wood. William Willet was the man who invented British Summer Time, and therefore he gets a wood named after him. There’s also a Edlmann Memorial Wood here but the guide glosses over his or her contribution to mankind.

Where the LCDR Main Line crosses the Kyd Brook we leave the wood. In fact the number of lines we have to cross, via 3 big bridges, reminds us that we are deep in the commuter belt here.

We emerge on Tent Peg Lane, and into a very genteel suburban street lined with the type of houses that Reggie Perrin might have lived in. And here we are on Petts Wood high street, and very thirsty we are too. But its one pub is very busy, it is after all early Friday evening. So I go to check out the train times, and a train to London Bridge turns up at that very moment. Top

Day 2 – Petts Wood to Hamsey Green, 19miles

It seems – and is obvious really – that the start and end points of the LOOP sections are not really too near train stations. And as last time I missed the all important turn-off for Tent Peg Lane and ended up deep into the Jubilee Park at Petts Wood I decided today it would quite acceptable today to miss out that bit and just make a bee-line for the route. It would only mean missing out some streets, so nothing lost really.

First into the pleasant Crofton Woods, where even the path diversion owing to it falling into the stream is does in a pleasant manner. And I’m sure the fallen tree over the stream is a favourite for daring young boys from all over the neighbourhood.

The guide tells us that Crofton used to be owned by the Archbishop Odo who fought at Hastings and commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. Apparently he used a heavy club to kill people rather than a sword as members of the church weren’t allowed to draw blood. One can only assume he was very gentle with his club.
After Crofton there’s more woods – Darrick Woods, in fact there’s going to be lots of woods today. And woods are often tricky to navigate through – especially Darrick Woods where we’re given instructions like “keep the wooden bollards to the right and walk past the fence towards the bench”. Darrick Woods is full of wooden bollards, fences and benches! Anyways, I just walked in the right direction and eventually popped out not far from where I was supposed to. I had to do this three more times in the course of the day. But when we do pop we’re greeted by a nice wide view and a lovely big sky.

Farnborough is a lovely little village, and not to be confused with its air-show namesake – some good-looking pubs here too. But sadly they’ll have to wait for another day. The Saxons called it Fearnbioginga – “the village among the fearns”, so now you know. St Giles the Abbott is the resting place of Gipsy Lee, so I spend a good 15 or 20 minutes looking for her grave. But not having all day to waste on such frivolities I give up.

But as often happens once I’d given up, I only spot her straight away, and her Gypsy husband’s, grave right by the path near where the exit to grave-yard. The grave-stone is slightly damaged, Mr Lee’s inscription reads “LEE BOSWELL GYPSY ..HIEF”. I’m sure if must mean “chief”, surely no other letter could be substituted and still make sense in the context of gypsies!
On we go to High Elms Country park, where again the directions manage to confuse. The say “turn left”, when “straight on” is what they should say. Luckily the yew avenue it describes is quite obvious and right in front of us.

After passing by the High Elms Clockhouse (about which there is no info in the directions nor nearby – the plaque there is waffling on about the community orchard we’re in) we stroll up Bogey Lane. Not a name I would pick myself! Ho ho. This leads us out onto Farthing Lane and Shire Lane. They have some old lanes round here!

Taking care not to get caught up with any trainee police dogs, the directions tell us to head for a bench. But what it doesn’t tell us is that the bench is right by the Wilberforce Oak. Surely such an important tree might merit a mention!

Down from the Oak and above the Keston fishing ponds, there is a spring which gushes forth more generously but the source of it is as still as millpond. Enchanting! Then onto Coney Hall – where a local bye-law says all the houses must be white.

We cross the prime meridian in Coney Hall rec – it’ll be some time before we cross it again! And via a St John’s, Corkscrew Lane, Sparrow’s Den playing fields and Spring Wood we’re in Three Halfpenny Wood. Thankfully free to access today, although I did think I’d have to pay to get out! We’re in the LB of Croydon now – always a thrill!

After a lengthy chunk of street walking, we enter the Addington Woods and go up Shirley Hills (also always a thrill!) With her gravel, gorse and heather it feels quite rural – it’s apparently the largest area of heathland in London. There’s a viewing platform at the top built for Croydon’s Millenary year in 1960. At first I read this as “Croydon’s Millinery Year” I wondered why Stockport hasn’t got something similar. Anyways, the views looking north over London are spectacular, especially if you like television transmitters. (The one on the left is the one that first brought me to London, all those years ago.)

The trams and rubbish remind us that we’re in Croydon now, but nothing tells what the huge water tower is for though.

The path now goes through the gardens of Heathfield House, and annoyingly the entrance we’re supposed to go through is marked as “authorised and disabled users only – please use entrance 100m on the left” or words to that effect with no LOOP makers, so I wander walk down 100m to use the entrance on the left, which is marked by LOOP waymarks, and bound down the shady leafy steps in to the gardens. But only to find that I have to go back up – the proper entrance to Heathfield I’d taken was in fact the exit of the path – hence the waymarks (for anti-clockwise walkers). Very annoying – I wish it had been made clear that I was supposed to use the entrance that I was otherwise being told not to use!
Anyways, I’m soon distracted by a very sinister-looking water tower in the Bramley Bank nature reserve. A water tower or GCHQ spying station – or aliens!? Who knows.

More poor directions “cross diagonally to a path on the other side of a metal hand rail” should really read “cross diagonally to a path on the other side of a metal hand rail, walk along this path for 20 yards and turn left so you’re going in the same direction as before”. Or even more helpfully “just keep going and duck under the metal hand rail”.
We’re in Puplet Wood now and the Puplet Beast that guards the woods is awake, but in a benign mood thankfully! She’s no doubt enjoying the wood anemones.

After passing Elm Farm we drop down a steep muddy path – Mossyhill Shaw – and the early-evenin view across the back of (I assume) Elm Farm is lovely.

Climbing back up brings us out in Sanderstead where we get the 403 to West Croydon. After a fair old hunt we find the entrance to West Croydon and head home. Top

Day 3 – Hamsey Green to Banstead Downs, 11miles.

Supposedly just 11 miles today, but at the start of the day and then half-way through I stupidly took two “detours”, caused by me just marching on and not looking at the map. This stuck another two miles on the total! Oh well, all good fun!


The first common of the day is Riddlesdown, where we rare chalkhill blues live. But we don’t see any today, if fact we don’t see any butterflies at all. A bit early I suppose. We also told that a trig point is a “concrete block used for surveying”, although how much use this one would be for surveying I’m not sure.


On Kenley Common, the site of a WWI airfield – perhaps this gate was part of it, there’s no pyramidal orchids in evidence. But one or two buttercups are spotted.


Just past the Kenley Observatory the guide says that there are earth banks that were blast bays to protect wartime Spitfires, but I couldn’t see them. Perhaps a telescope might have been handy?
Lunch is taken on a bench over-looking Happy Valley, with Devilsden Wood on the other side. It’s not the Happy Valley I know and love, but it’s very nice anyways. It’s home to one of Britain’s rarest plants – the greater yellow rattle – but I didn’t see any. Not that I know what one looks like. I didn’t see the devil in Devilsden Woods either, but who knows what he looks like!?

 

 

 

 

Farthing Downs is very pleasant, high (475ft – high for round here!) and flat, with Saxon burial mounds (that I couldn’t see) and fine views over the chalk valley and all the way back to central London, and the old Cane Hill Asylum which I’m told is currently being turned into luxury flats.

After a bit of faffing about at Coulsdon South station I’m back on track. But if it weren’t for such faffing about I might have missed the mile-post telling us the distance to Westminster Bridge in Roman numerals, and the distance to Brighton in English. Or Arabic rather. I’m realising that it’s a good idea to actually read the Loop section guide before you get there, or else you may well miss such little marvels.


Out of the busy centre of Coulsdon South there’s a long and tedious slog up to Clockhouse. The houses up here were built for soldiers returning from WWI – bit harsh to make them walk all the way up this hill! But once of the road and back out in the fields it’s all very nice again. The thick cow parsley shielded the view of the twin prisons of HMP Highdown and HMP Downview. And the Mayfield lavender farm is as unlike a prison as you could possibly get. In the height of summer the scented air but be so pleasant as to be over-powering!

We pop up in the middle of Banstead Downs Golf Club, and after dodging slices we then pop out on to the busy A217 where we change to dodging cars and look back to London in the distance.
As this is the end of day’s section I see a likely looking bridle way that runs alongside and high above the Epsom Downs Branch that will take me home, so I follow it straight to Banstead station. Sadly there’s no little shop to reward myself with an ice-cream though. Top

Day 4 – Banstead Downs to Kingston Bridge, 11miles.

A rare warm day today which hopefully should make for a pleasant day’s walking. Pleasant that is if you like walking past lots of big post-war well-to-do stockbroker-belt detached houses. Lawns being mowed and extensions being erected. But occasionally there is a bit of greenery and shade when the patch dives in to some woodland.


The shady path above right is The Ghost Road, which sadly isn’t as spooky as it sounds. It’s just an unfinished – or more accurately unstarted – housing development, curtailed by the war and the new fangled green-belt.

Just after here things get slightly more interesting with Henry VIII’s Nonsuch Park.


The concrete pillars show where his palace used to be, and the bricked-in clump of trees are where his banqueting house was. A banquet back then was actually just light refreshments. You learn something new every day on the LOOP!


Ewell Castle School (1814) and Bourne Hall Park make interesting sights as we pass by one, and pass through the other.

Now we join the Hogsmill River, and follow it more or less all the rest of the way to Kingston – and very pleasant it is too.


The Hogsmill River is where John Everett Millais painted Ophelia and you can still see the resemblance today. Apart from the railway tunnels.


Sadly we don’t get to cross the stepping-stones today, but we just carry on along the river and very nice it is. Apart from all the Japanese Knotweed. You have admire the noble efforts of some to try to cut it back, but wonder how futile they are.


As we hit the suburbs of Kingston we switch between road & river. Past the Duke of Buckingham – the Duke himself was killed at the battle of Surbiton Common in the Civil War. More to Surbiton than the Goods and the Leadbetters it turns out! Despite being channeled through concrete through the town centre the Hogsmill is clean enough for a few plump trout to dwell in.

Kingston’s rich with history, so we make time to have a good look at Saxon Coronation Stone and the Clattern Bridge.

And also to have a gentle look round the town centre, and fortuitously the museum is open late on Thursdays. Top

Day 5 – Kingston Bridge to Hatton Cross, 8½ miles.

A shorter day than I’d planned today as owing to someone under the train at Wimbledon the train was very delayed on the way to Kingston. Although during the enforced downtime I realised that the wrapper that the free waterproofing samples (themselves very useful!) would make a great impromptu map-case! That would surely be handy with much rain forecast. As it turned out it hardly rained at all for the rest of the day.

After a brief but none-the-less disconcerting walk through the shopping precincts of central Kingston, we reach and breach the bridge back over the River. And back into North London, technically. The next time we see the Thames we shall be done and dusted with the LOOP.


We enter Bushy Park via horse-chestnut avenue that the guide describes as “grand”, I don’t want to sound mean but it’s not really that grand. Nice yes, grand not so. At the end though as we come to the park proper we see two most enticing signs of a “beware of the deer” variety. How exciting, it hadn’t occurred to me that there might be deer in Bushy Park – rather stupid. I wonder if we’ll see any today!!


But I wasn’t going to be disappointed! Less than a minute into the park there they were. A dozen or presumably happily serviced does all lounging round their stag. A couple of onlookers were just feet away from them, and two women with prams and a girl jogging while hula-hooping went past and didn’t bat an eyelid. Must have been here before I thought as I stooped and stalked through the long wet grass trying to stay down-wind of them* hoping to get a good photo. I didn’t have to worry, they were clearly way too use to people snapping their likenesses to worry about me. And I was so see plenty more anyways.

* – not really.


Time was getting on – it would be dark in just a few hours – it had been some weeks since my last stage of the LOOP, so I had to leave the stag and his ladies now to push on. He let out a call as I went, presumably to bid me on my way.


Happily my stalking had landed me back on the path, and next up are a couple of pleasant ponds, the Leg of Mutton Pond and Heron Pond. Connected by a long canal like feature. There was no mutton to be seen nor herons. But many of the usual water-fowl suspects, and sea-gulls of course. And these days lots and lots of bloody parakeets.


Past a rather out-of-place looking water pump, stuck in the middle of the park with no explanation we come to some avenues of trees – horse-chestnut and lime. Now these are grand avenues! The guide says that they were planted in 1622, but the avenue (ie. road) running up the middle was Sir Christopher Wren’s idea.


We pass a couple more grazing stags as we head towards the very pleasant Waterhouse Woodland Gardens. Which would be a lot more pleasant if it weren’t for the afore-mentioned parakeets.


In the Waterhouse Woodland Gardens we see some odd riverside posts, the odd pheasant. And a rather sad-looking bunny rabbit, suffering badly with myxomatosis. Poor thing, it will probably be dead by now.


Notice the “small bench”. I took this photo of a bench to illustrate what a “small bench” looks like – we shall return to that later. The trees in the avenue we pass are horn-beams. Must remember what a horn-beam looks like for next time!


More deer await as we head towards Upper Lodge and the park exit. Several of these younger stags were right in my way – and they didn’t look very young to me! They soon moved though, with a holler and a bray just for good measure. But over under the trees some other young bucks put on a good show with some high-spirited rutting practice.


As we emerge into Hampton Hill there’s a rather boring lengthy road stage, until we pop into Fullwell Woods – only to soon pop out again on the Uxbridge Road, from where more road walking eventually leads us to Crane Park – a large patch of mud alongside the River Crane. We pass under the road bridge, accurately described in the guide as “dark” and hug the river for a little while, clambering over the odd victim of the recent storm. THe guide then says “after a while the River Crane splits…” by which I think it means two branches of the Crane come together. Anyways, around here there was an arc of posts in the river with what seemed to be some submerged stepping-stones leading to them. Curious!



By a weir on the river there’s the Shot Mill – an 18th Century Gunpowder Mill. My plans to have a sit down for a few moments here were scuppered by a brief drizzly shower a minute or two before, so I rested upright admiring the shot-tower and headed on. Headed on along another long road stretch to Hounslow Heath. By now darkness had fallen – and quickly so. The guide says to look for a “small bench” and turn left here, but the only bench I saw was normal size. “Small” being akin to the one above, and I could see and turning to take anyways – it either not being there or it being dark. My new path took me straight out of the Heath and to the busy Staines Road again, and past a large ghostly looking dragonfly. I had intended to trek on to Hayes today, but as the path carried on through park-land along the Crane where it would be pitch black (I’d actually replaced the batteries in two torches just that morning but neglected to bring either) though I’d better call it a day. A long and tedious walk to Hatton Cross tube station ensued, constantly , being dive bombed by jumbo-jets coming in to land at all-too-near Heathrow. Top

Day 6 – Hatton Cross to Uxbridge, 12½ miles.

When I left the house in the morning for today’s LOOPette it was raining, but after the long tube ride out to Hatton Cross it had stopped. It was still grey – but hopefully I wouldn’t need my waterproof trousers that I had packed away for the first time on the LOOP.


Today’s instructions were going to leave something to be desired as it turned out, and navigational problems started as soon as I left the tube station – I was sure what side of the road I was supposed to be and there were no LOOP signs anywhere. After the large airport buildings the guide says to follow a large concrete wall – which was nowhere in sight, and therefore a tad confusing. An instruction like “Continue to the large concrete wall and then follow it” would be more useful. Anyways, with only airport shuttle buses for company we arrive at the Crane Bank Park.



We’re told that green woodpeckers and kingfishers can be seen here, but all we see is a very deep litter bin! And all we can hear are parakeets – they almost drain out the roar of the aeroplanes coming into land.


The guide points out that all the houses round here have double glazing – and it’s easy to see why such a luxury is more of a necessity round here!


There’s been a crossing over Crane here since 1276, and current bridge is still rather nice. Although the dual carriage way it carries is more functional. Entering Berkeley Park sadly the promised natural hazards are not encountered.


We do encounter an 18th Century ha-ha though. And much as I’d love to see the “crinkle crankle” wall in the grounds of St Dunstans, but alas the work going there was preventing access.


Past the lovely restored stables of famous Berkeley Hunt (beloved of burks everywhere!) and under the M4 courtesy of St Dunstan’s Passage.


By now the greyness had cleared completely and it was turning in to a very pleasant day indeed. Blue skies and sunshine, and a slight chill – good walking weather! Dog Kennel Covert was looking lovely in the currant bun, but the same couldn’t really be said for the brief walk alongside the North Hyde Road.


As we get to the Grand Union Canal we see the huge Nestle factory – the home of Milky Bars?? No, the semi-pleasant aroma of coffee in the air suggests it’s the home of Nescafe. Along the canal in the wrong direction we see the “gleaming whiteness of Bull’s Bridge”, over a branch to Paddington apparently for before the Grand Union was completed.

Now we were on the canal the directions were going to get very strange indeed. There’s constant talk of going through kissing-gates, but there aren’t any kissing gates on the tow-path. So unless they’ve been removed I’ve no idea what they’re talking about – but when does any tow-path have kissing gates? There are some to join footpaths leaving the canal but that’s it.
And then the instructions seem to differ wildly from the map, the sign-posts and the geography. It makes much mention of brick bridges – which we never see. I was definitely wasn’t lost, as the sign-posts alongside the canal confirmed.


But this sign must be ignored! No mention anywhere is made of Yiewsley, but it makes sense to follow the sign, right? Wrong – the actual path is 90degs clockwise away from Yiewsley, basically just the same way we were coming anyways. Not a very helpful sign at all! Passing through Stockley Park – a high-tec industrial estate and a golf-course the guide catches up with us. God knows where they’ve been. But then there’s more confusion. As we leave the golf-course, the guide says “Look out for the ‘London Loop’ sign and follow it to the right…”. What they actually mean is look out for the THIRD sign-post you’ll encounter from this point. As the first two indicate keeping left this too is very confusing. At least the A-frame bridge over Stockley Road is hard to miss!


After a long walk through another industrial estate, with some rather out-of-place looking houses and a pub that was obviously there long before anything else, and after passing the massive & mysterious JOhn Guest factory & offices – what do they do!? (snap-fit plumbing fittings apparently) we rejoin the canal! It would have been much quicker just to stay on the canal, and we would have missed nothing interesting really. Sure, two industrial parks and a golf-course break up the monotony but to be honest I think the monotony of the canal would have been preferable.

But more seriously the guide says “To carry on, keep going under the bridge. The next one is number 191, according to the plaque. Go under the bridge through a kissing gate.” This is quite wrong, firstly – again – there is no kissing gate. But secondly DO NOT GO UNDER THE BRIDGE! Turn right away from the bridge otherwise you’ll be walking the wrong way – back to Paddington rather than towards Birmingham which we want to be doing. I might email the LOOP people about this as I reckon it’s quite a slip-up. It’s not even as if the access to the canal has changed as it specifically mentions “at the bridge, head down the steps on the right, back onto the Grand Union towpath” which is correct.


Anyways, we carry on along the canal and over the “black bridge” to the Slough Arm, which itself crosses Fray’s River.


Oddly no mention is made of the pill-box here. I assume it is a pill-box anyways. Mention is made of the granite coal tax marker up ahead, but sadly not until it’s told us to leave the canal and enter the Colne Valley Regional Park and I couldn’t be bothered going back to have a look. But here it is should you miss it too. It’s not as nice as this one we saw on the Thames Path though. I really should’ve learned by now to read these directions a paragraph or two at a time rather than a sentence at a time as they do jump around a bit.


Eventually we come to the end of the park and witness the spectacle of Little Britain lake – I’ll leave it to you to figure out why it’s called that, but I think the above photo was taken looking from Penzance.



After a lengthy seeming stretch alongside the Colne, and venturing in to Buckinghamshire we find ourselves back on Grand Union again! And this time stay on it until we get to Uxbridge and head home. And we eventually see a Braunston mile post, which I’m sure we’ve been promised twice already but no mention is made of this one. They were really concerned about Braunston back in the day!

And at this point I’m reckon I’m half-way round! I would’ve though some congratulatory message might have been in order from the guide, but apparently not. Top

Back to index, or carry on to part two.

West Highland Way, May 2012

West Highland Way Index.
Day 1 – Milngavie to Balmaha, 19½miles.
Day 2 – Balmaha to Inverarnan, 21½miles.
Day 3 – Inveranan to Bridge of Orchy, 19½miles.
Day 4 – Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven, 21miles.
Day 5 – Kinlochleven to Fort William, 14miles.

 

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The West Haggis Way.


Day 1 – Milngavie to Balmaha, 19½miles.

After a long and not particularly restful night on the Cally Sleeper up from Euston, I wish I’d bothered to read some of my chosen guide-book – rather than just looking at the map. The guide I’d chosen was the HMSO Official Guide for the walk which I’d picked up on eBay for a couple of quid. The 1996 edition but it was still fine, and comes with the necessary 1:50000 OS sheets which is handy. Also handy within the first few pages of the guide are instructions on how to pronounce “Milngavie”, the start of the walk. Having not seen this it had to be explained to me by a rather bemused ScotRail employee at Glasgow Central, although he must’ve heard a million daft Sassenachs ask for “Miln-gavvy” rather than “Mul-guy” before. So be warned, it’s the train to “Mul-guy” you want! Apparently it has something to do with the Gaelic for windmill.

So here I am in Mulguy – sorry, Milngavie. With a Costa Coffee on one side and a Greggs on the other, there’s something for everyone while you queue up to have your photo take by the starting-obelisk.


Milngavie is in the northern suburbs of Glasgow, so although the first stretch along the Allander Water is leafy it is still fairly urban. And as head we head towards Carbeth we’re careful not to take the Kyber Pass.


But we’ve soon left the Glaswegian urban sprawl behind us and are up on the upper reaches of Allander Park, with fine views of the Kilpatrick Hills and Campsie Fells.


As we pass through Mugdock Wood we see the first sign post for Fort William – already a bit closer than I thought it might be. The first 8 miles have flown by – these five days will be a doddle, surely?! The Beech Tree Inn would be very tempting any later in the day, but the frothing sewage works reminding us the civilisation is not far behind are not so enticing.

The path climbs and views get nicer and nicer as we approach and pass Upper Gartness. Some recent clearances in the Garadhban Forest give us our first view of Loch Lomond. A loch with which we’ll become very familiar tomorrow!

Now the showers started, brief and squally, but punctuated by warm sunshine. The kind of weather that plays havoc with waterproofs-decisions! The climb up Conic Hill was steep, and made no more fun by the rain. But once at the top the views down over the Loch were magnificent. As was the generosity of a group of fellows with whom my arrival at the top coincided. While we taking photos, admiring the view and generally catching our breath, one of them got a bottle of whisky out to celebrate the first big hill of the walk. As it well after midday it would have been churlish to refuse their kind offer of malt-refreshments! Sadly I didn’t see them again for the rest of the walk.

All down-hill now to Balmaha, and worth a quick look back towards Conic Hill and the blue skies.

Sustenance of ale & haggis were tasty and welcome at the Oak Tree Inn, and their proud boast that the haggis was “locally caught” resulted in very clean plate! Then off to the lovely Passfoot B&B, just a shortish walk up the road from the pub, to be well looked after by Mrs Betty Twaddle. Top

Day 2 – Balmaha to Inveranan, 22½miles.

After a good night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast and much talk from some Americans in the dining room, it was looking to be a fine day over Loch Lomond.
This view is straight from the B&B. The weather forecast was good, just as well given what a long day it would turn out to be.

Thankfully I was blissfully ignorant of that at this early time, and the views over Loch Lomond were still looking good. I was expecting a pleasant though fairly uniform loch-side stroll today but it’s very different. The path often veers away from the loch, up hills and down to the shore again, or up into forested sections which almost completely blot out the view. But at least this all makes for a varied day’s walking. Well varied-ish, as if I remember correctly, most of the day is spent in woodland.


The birds liked the woods though, with this chaffinch and an oyster-catcher milling about in the Rowardennan Forest.


The views over the loch continue to impress – when the breaks in the trees permit.


Although the walking was overly tough and the scenery and view were very pleasant, it did still mainly consist of walking in a straight line. And a lot of it is on well made tracks. So not an awful lot of navigating is required – just keep the big wet thing on your left and you’re ok. So things did become a little boring, so I was more thank thankful when I was able to decide it was lunch-time when I found a picturesque resting spot near the Rowardennan Hotel. And as you can see, a fine luncheon it was too!


There is apparently a choice of routes to take here, the low-level loch-side one or one higher-up in the trees. But any tricky decision-making was taken away from me by the low-level one being closed because a fallen tree. So up we went!

Which of course means more ascending and descending, but the upside of ascents are the views – and the fine views continued. Continued on a theme mind you! But that’s not necessarily a bad thing round here.

After the two routes join up again, I completely missed Rob Roy’s cave (I’m pretty sure I don’t have a photo of it anyways). Unless I’m confusing it with one of the other crevices and you have to carefully clamber through – alleviates the boredom if nothing else, but you really do not want to lose your footing on some of these bits. But it’s worth pausing at Bill Lobban’s memorial for a second.


With still much of the Loch yet to go, it’s easy to be come a little used to it. The guide-book mentioned a waterfall by the Inversnaid Hotel that’s worth checking out. You make up own mind from the photo above! And I wish I’d made a note if what this snow-capped mountain was called. I think by now I was just thinking of a beer and a bath! (It’s Ben Lui – thanks Colin!)


But hoorah and hooray! After some 20miles or so we’ve reached the end of the loch at last! At least it makes a nice photo op, despite the idiot spoiling the view.


All that was left today would be a few feral goats, a seemingly long walk down through some woods, finding a water bottle and then shortly afterwards reuniting it with it Policewoman owner. I mananged to catch them up as she was really struggling – and I knew how she felt, past the Beinglas Farm, through a field, over the River Falloch, along the busy A82, a view of the Ben Glas burn coming down Meall Mor nan Eagand, and then at last…


… the Drover’s Inn! And a welcoming party of a house sparrow [ID thanks to Rambling Minster!] as I enjoyed a pint in the last of the day’s sun.


Now, I’d heard a lot about the Drover’s Inn when I was planning the trip – most of it bad. But with bad reviews you often get the picture that the reviewer simply just didn’t like the thing, rather than the thing being bad. And so it is with the Drover’s – I thought it was great. Perhaps a little tatty here & there, but quirky & full of character, warm & welcoming. If you want all your hotels to a Travel Lodge don’t expect to like the Drover’s – but if you want ten ghosts per bedroom do! I even felt a bit sorry for the people who were staying in the modern bit over the road. The beer & evening’s haggis concoction were spot on too. Top

Day 3 – Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy, 19½miles.

Another fine day up in the Highlands – would my luck with the hold all the way to Fort William I wonder…?

We head back along the A82 and over the Falloch to Beinglas to rejoin the path to Crianlarich. The views up Glen Falloch are a lovely sight first thing in the morning. Or indeed any time of day I’d say!


The Falloch is a fine companion through the glen and thankfully the A82 and West Highland Line, neither of which are very far away, are both quiet.

Skirting past Crianlarich we get a nice look up Strath Fillan, and continue along Bogle Glen. Apparently it means “valley of the pixies” but sadly they were not coming out to play today.


I think that’s Ben Challum with a healthy dusting of snow looking down over Inverhaggernie, and I think that’s a song thrush looking up towards it.


After emerging from the woods above Inverherive I stopped for some elevenses under the viaduct over a seemingly nameless burn trickling down to the Fillan. And then after another brief stroll along the A82 we cross over the Fillan heading towards Kirkton Farm and St Fillan’s Priory.


Here we see Annette and Yette, the lovely Dutch mother & daughter team, enjoying views of Fillan flood plain. I’d been walking with them a bit on & off for a last couple of miles, and I think they were stopping for lunch so we said our farewells. Just a little further on is the Lochan of the Legend of the Lost Sword. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it?? Apparently it has something to do with Robert the Bruce fleeing the MacGregors…


I stop for lunch at the comparative bustling metropolis of Tyndrum and its famous Green Welly Stop shop. Well, famous if you saw the same TV programme as I did once. After Tyndrum we continue along side the A82.

In the shadows of various looming mountains, annoyingly – and again! – I can’t remember the names of any these rocks that I photographed. The above photo is looking back down Strath Fillan from what I remember, before we disappear behind the Mealle Buidhe.


At a crossroads of footpaths where we could if we wanted take a right up to Beinn Odhar, the A82 finally drifts away to the west to leave in peace to march on towards Beinn Dorain – the kilometre high pointy peak in the photo above, and Bridge of Orchy a few miles beyond that. The hard surface of the old military road is getting a bit rough on the feet now.


Just by the Bridge of Orchy railway station I spy a lonely looking caravan. Who’d ever want to stay in that I wondered?? I would, as it would turn out!

We reach the hotel via an underpass under the railway, and then the bits of pieces of the village that are all dotted along the road down to the hotel.
Despite saying earlier what I did about bad reviews, I am about to give the Bridge of Orchy a bad review! Firstly, having booked in and freshened up with a beer and a shower (not at the same time), they told me they couldn’t fit me in for dinner as they were fully booked. Despite the fact I was staying there. I eventually persuaded them to let me have a bar-snack at the bar, by which time there were plenty of tables available so I was granted one of them. The food itself was very nice though, although I can’t remember what I had – it would have been haggis and something. Then when it came to time to pay (I’d already paid for the bunk-house room, so anything else was extra) there was large queue at the one till. So I wandered off for a couple of minutes across the road to post a post-card. When I returned to pay them I got a right bollocking off some little madam for attempting to do a runner. My protestations that I was staying there didn’t convince them that I wasn’t intending to avoid my £15 bill by running off into the wilds of the Trossachs. So they’d not impressed me already with the service and manners. But then the room we’d been given (not the usual royal we – there was three of us) was tiny. With three tiny beds and not enough room for more than one person not to be in bed at any one time. Nor room for more than one person’s stinky wet walking apparel. And then to make it worse, one chap – a French fellow who was asleep when I got there and was asleep when I left in the morning – snored so loudly that much sleep was not forthcoming. Definitely my least favourite accommodation on this, or perhaps any, walk. Top

Day 4 – Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven, 21miles.

Having barely got to sleep, waking up wasn’t difficult. And leaving the Bridge of Orchy Hotel was difficult either, despite the fact the fair weather had finally come to an end. Surely the sun will be shining again by the time we get to Rannoch Moor surely!?


At least the hotel is directly on the path, so we just have to continue where we left off. Immediately crossing over the Orchy over the eponymous bridge. Just after the river we enter some woods and climb upwards – through a soft lazy drizzle. On Mam Carraigh at the top we get our first good views of Rannoch Moor – our companion for the rest of the day.


I couldn’t help but be impressed by the hardiness of the this little tree – a birch? – standing up bravely to the elements looking down on Loch Tulla. I wonder how old it really is…? The other pic is I think from low down alongside Loch Tulla looking up to the Black Mount and Rannoch Moor. But I’m not really sure to be honest!

As we carry on along the well made path, over the Bá gushing through a rocky crevice via Bá Bridge, and then past Bá Cottages, the rainy moors are a lonely place. Well not so much lonely – but a place of solitude. Bá Bridge, my guide tells me, is the remotest spot on the walk. Only the occasional red deer was to be seen – and she had clearly seen me first. No sign of the white hind of local legend though!

As the moor goes on, there’s not an awful lot to see. Especially with this low mist drizzle obscuring any views. We pass the highest point on the path so far – some 1500ft. All downhill from here then! Oh – highest point so far… more uphills to come then!
The guide mentions that we pass Ian Fleming’s brother’s memorial cairn. But I don’t see it. I am briefly distracted by a sign to a chair-lift but I have to keep slogging on.

Past the Black Rock cottage and Buachaille Etive Mor and on to the King’s House Hotel, where more than a few people were staying. Which I thought was rather odd as the day still had a long time to run and Kinlochleven isn’t too far to go. Now they’re all stuck in a place where’s not much to do, and this would then make it a rather long day to Fort William. Who knows?! Indeed, who cares? Although I was briefly envious when I popped in to go to the loo – the lovely warm dry loo…


But I pressed on alongside the River Coupnall as the rain got rainier. It was well after my lunchtime but finding a sheltered spot had been predictably fruitless. So a much-needed rest on the Devil’s Staircase was combined with lunch-time. A father & son passed me, and the father wasn’t having fun at all. All downhill from here I assured him, but as it was to be that wouldn’t have been very reassuring at all.

The total climb to the top of the Devil’s Staircase from the Coupnall is a good 800ft, and when we eventually had finished our rainy lunch and got to the top the clouds were beginning to lift. The mist rising from the valley of the Leven was an eerie spectacle.

Now the descent started into Kinlochleven. When you start the final descent of the day after much ascending you can’t help but think to yourself “hooray! easy now all the way to the pub!” but it rarely is. The path down here was long, steep and hard with a lot a sizeable loose rock on the surface. I was fed up with it after not very long.


But there was one brief distraction on the way down. You can’t fail to notice the large water pipes that provide hydro-power for the aluminium plant down in the town. And I noticed that there was the occasional large leak, presumably where a gasket had split. I decided to take a small detour from the downward zig-zags to take a closer look at one these large plumes of water. Which I did for about 1/2 a second, it being exactly that – a large plume of water. Having been under the influence of downwards moving water most of the day it failed to impress me as much as I thought it might. So I turned round to return to the path. And behind me were two pairs of walkers looking at their maps rather puzzledly. “Hmmm” I thought. I bet they’d just blithely followed me assuming that I was going where they were going! Which I suppose I was, but not as directly as they reckoned. But that is an easy mistake to make – as I know only too well!

Anyways, I eventually got to the bottom of the hill by the impressive aluminium plant – which seemed to be still working. Thankfully my B&B “Quiraing” was on this side of town. The landlady was wonderful – it was more a private house than B&B – very homely. And none of this TAKE YER BOOTS OFF! type thing. She just had tramp upstairs muddy and dripping with all my gear to warm up and dry off, but recommending a very pleasant eatery (I had the house special – chicken stuffed with haggis) in town, via a little detour to a nearby waterfall. The one pub in town I tried wasn’t that great, but everything else in Kinlochleven was very nice. Top

Day 5 – Kinlochleven to Fort William, 14miles.

After a perfect night’s sleep I was all ready for the last day – and looking forward to relatively short day, although there’s always mixed emotions about getting to the end of a long walk.


The day started off very grey and the walk out of Kinlochleven was a little damp. Sadly there was no time today to visit the Aluminium Story.


Even the pavement was slippy here – yikes indeed! Although it was reassuring to see a sign-post for our destination. “Lairig” means valley or pass I think, and I can’t recall now whether this is actually the route we took. I’m guessing it must be. With a hindsight though and on a clearer day it might be nice to take a ridge-top route over the Mamores.

The path climbs steeply providing us with a fine and final view of Kinlochleven.
Again we’re on the well-made track on the old military way, and despite the low cloud the views over the valley are super. Above is Meall nan Clereach above the Allt na Largie Moire.


But, as is often the way, I can’t remember what all the views are of! The peak above could be Meall a’ Chaorainn… does anyone know?!


Despite the scenery slogging along such a clear track can get a little tedious (relatively tedious!) so the opportunity to cock about in some old ruined crofts is a welcome break! These are at Tigh-na-steubhaich I think.


The path breaks away from the old military road at Blar a’ Chaorainn and heads towards the Nevis Forest. Lochan Lun Da Bhra is near here – apparently the resting place of that old Scottish King MacBeth. But these days it’s probably best not to go too near in case the nasty kelpie that lives there gets you.

At least I don’t think we’re on the old military road anymore, but it is still very well-kept path. And as we progress through the woods in turns into a road. Easy walking and tough walking at the same time. But it is here that we get our first sighting of the majestic big old Ben Nevis.


And as it’s going nowhere we end up getting constant views of it. And why not? She makes for a fine view.

As we drop down the forest track I spy on the map a “rocking stone”. Intriguing! And not very far away. When we were kids we’d come up to Fort William on holiday and always stay in the same caravan park, which I knew was round here somewhere, and I remember well a huge glacial erratic there. I don’t remember it rocking, but surely it had to that? I thought I’d go and take a look. But unfortunately after a good hour or so I couldn’t find it anywhere, the location on the map was quite vague and it had been some 30 years since I’d seen it last. And as you might imagine the caravan park had changed too. I popped into the nearby visitor centre to enquire – neither of the people there had heard of it, until I showed the older chap the map. “Oh that hasn’t rocked for years” he said, rather uninterested – presumably because I wasn’t buying anything! Anyways, I gave up – I’m sure it’ll be there next time. So I continued on towards Fort William, a very long and boring walk along a busy road. I also remembered another large glacial erratic by the roadside that I’m sure had been painted to resemble a skull, and it meant we were nearly back at the caravan. I couldn’t see that either. Oh well!


Having got over my failed rock-hunt I got back to the business of finishing the walk. And the WHW is in the curious position of having two finishes. The original finish comes first, and as I got there I was greeted by a toot from the Jacobite, just leaving for Mallaig. Too bad I didn’t notice the sign inviting me in to claim my certificate. Maybe I was just thinking of the other finish, which half a mile away or so in the town centre.

Having posed for the obligatory and cliched finished-it-photo I popped in the nearby Ben Nevis pub for a pint of something Orcadian. A few more pubs & pints followed, including some with my policeman/woman friends whom I made friends with at Inverarnan earlier (them of the water bottle.)


Then back to the Cally sleeper to head back down south. The first hour or so of which spent enjoying the view from the back of the train.

What a wonderful part of the world!

Offa’s Dyke Path, September 2011.

Offa’s Index.

Day 1 – Chepstow to Monmouth, 18miles.
Day 2 – Monmouth to Pandy, 17miles.
Day 3 – Pandy to Hay-on-Wye, 18miles.
Day 4 – Hay-on-Wye to Kington, 15miles.
Day 5 – Kington to Knighton, 14miles.
Day 6 – Knighton to Montgomery, 18miles.
Day 7 – Montgomery to Lanymynech, 19miles.
Day 8 – Llanymynech – Froncysyllte, 18miles.
Day 9 – Froncysyllte to Llandegla, 11miles.
Day 10 – Llandegla to Bodfari, 18miles.
Day 11 – Bodfari to Prestatyn, 12miles.

******

Part 2. (North)

“The variety of scenery of this stretch of the path is remarkable”.

Cheers!

Day 6. Knighton to Montgomery, 18miles.

The first paragraph from the guide-book for today stage is peppered with potentially worrying phrases… “toughest part of the walk”, “a long procession of short steep climbs”, “if you’re fit & lucky with the weather, you will have a good day!”. Hmmm. But it does also say “rewarding scenically”, “outstanding natural beauty” and “quite unspoilt” so as usual it’s swings and roundabouts. Here the grain of the land runs in an east-west direction so there’s no alternation but to cross lots of hills and ridges, unlike the much conveniently laid out Black Mountains. But there’s no long way round. Well, there is but it is very long! After finally finishing a most generous breakfast and breaking free of conversation at Whytcwm we set off. After a nice gentle start to the day along the Teme Valley and a scamper across the Heart of Wales line we’re then confronted by all 1150ft of Panpunton Hill, and the climbing begins! The first few hundred feet are particularly steep but at least take us back to Dyke. The rest of the ascent is a bit gentler and the views from the top of are well-worth it.


The welcoming bench (in memory of Frank Noble) and cairn (in memory of Roy Waters of Tref y Clawdd Society) made me wish it was lunch-time already – my breakfast was still settling though. Still with views like this over the Teme, and Beacon Hill on the other side, it would be a shame not to rest up for a few moments with a sausage roll to occupy my mouth while my eyes were otherwise engaged. We continue along the ridge, before dropping down and then climbing again to Cwm-sanham Hill. I wasn’t wishing for many more of these drops & climbs, but alas this was one wish that wasn’t going to be granted.


Apart from the ups & downs the walking on the open moor-land isn’t too bad, remembering to always use the stiles! We get a nice view of the Knucklas Viaduct from here too.
We’re warned at this point to watch out for buzzards and we’re not disappointed. I was too slow on the shutter to catch the one that took shelter in the wind-savaged copse above, but one its brethren wasn’t far behind possibly looking down on Lloyney. The path now stays high for a little while as it heads towards Llanfair Hill, and is actually alongside the Dyke rather than on top of it.


But this gives us a nice side-on view enabling us to appreciate our guiding border-marking ancient earthwork even more. Apparently this section gives us the best views of the Dyke, uncluttered as it is by woodland and the like and it is easy to appreciate how impressive it must have been 1200 years ago.


Above to the left we see the Dyke heading back to the south where we’d come from, heading towards a place mischievously marked in the guide’s map as “Scotland”. Just ahead of us is Lower Spoad, something I seem to have missed. Probably distracted by the handsomely-decrepit looking half-timbered 17th Century Bryndrinog. Here we drop down again in to the Clun Valley and worringly the guide-book says “Here the real climbing begins…” oh dear. But just as the real climbing begins, up from the Clun and past a handy Severn Water drinking tap we see a very welcoming sign indeed… We are officially and exactly half-way there! Half-way to Prestatyn! A very reassuring marker not mentioned in my old guide-book, but it was soon forgotten as the ups & downs seemed never-ending. As we skirt round Hergan apparently there’s a gap in the Dyke where there’s quite an east/west gap in it. Sadly I missed this “1100 year old mystery” at the time – you do tend to get Dyke-blindness after a short while. It was also around here, just after Middle Knuck, that I bumped into one of the few other people doing the walk coming the other way. We stopped for a brief chat, both seemingly surprised that we’d encountered someone with the same idea! I hinted at the pleasing sign to come (not spoiling the surprise though), we bid our farewells and I headed through Cwm Ffrydd to Churchtown.

St John’s at Churchtown is somewhat isolated, and its 12th Century font disappointingly modern! Churchtown has a Churchtown Hill, Churchtown Plantation, Churchtown Hill Plantation, Churchtown Cottage and Churchtown Wood. But there is no town – the nearest village is Mainstone. So it was with pleasing solitude that I stopped in the church grounds for boots off and lunch out. Getting going again afterwards was a struggle, specially as it took me  straight up the steepest burst of today’s numerous ups & down. 350ft in quarter of a mile. I was getting very tidy of all this now – this “switchback” as it’s called. Bloody switchback!! Thankfully though they were nearly over.


Up over Edenhope Hill and down to the Unk and Nut Wood the path and terrain continue in the same vein. We see a cow with adding to erosion of the Dyke, and a lump of stone with “1969” carved into it. The Offa’s Dyke Association was set up in that year, but why there’s this otherwise-unmarked engraved lump in the middle of nowhere I have no idea. We finally drop down for the last time today, past Crowsnest and towards Cwm. The wide open flatness of the Montgomery Plain is welcome indeed. The last couple of miles are fairly uneventful – which after the all the climbs is exactly what you want!

We pass a monument and some wonderfully-ramshackle farm buildings walled in as if to stop them escaping, but I forgot to record what or where they are. The guide interestingly refers to the Dyke as a “monument” not far from here. Just semantics, but I’m not sure I agree. Near Brompton Bridge is about as useful as I can get. After Brompton Bridge it’s a long straight to Montgomery along the catchily labelled “Euro ER, Co Const, Asly ER & UA Bdy”. Montgomery is actually some little way off the Path so I have to leave the “Euro ER, Co Const, Asly ER & UA Bdy” to pass through Boardyhall Wood to get me there. But it’s still pleasant walking though Lymore Park which takes me into the town. The first pub I see is the Crown Inn, and boy it is welcome! After a couple of pints and a some light chit-chat with the locals in there I wandered through town to find the charmingly-quirky Dragon Hotel. The view from my window was splendid. But it was the welcoming refreshments that were the nicest touch – the sherry was lovely, but the crisps were a bit off I thought. They also had a painting in the corridor that I rather liked, I emailed the hotel to ask and they promptly got back to me saying it was by Jean-Baptiste Valadie – I shall be keeping my eyes open! (Rather like the young creatures in the painting.)


I dined in the hotel that evening, entertained if I remember correctly by some live lounge piano music. And each time I went back to my top-floor room I got lost in the warren of tiny corridors, landings and staircases. A Travelodge this isn’t! Splendid indeed. Top

Day 7 – Montgomery to Lanymynech, 19miles.

Today looked like it was going to be a much easier day than the constant ups & downs of yesterday. I reckon they was well over 5,000ft of ascent the previous day – that’s a complete (educated) guess mind you, but it sounds about right. Breakfast at the Dragon was quite busy, I think the first time so far I’ve not breakfasted alone – quite a shock! Then stopping to admire the Valadie one more time, we were off again. Again via the Spa across the road. Where would the rural walker be without a Spa for sustenance?? First things to do on leaving Montgomery is to visit the Robber’s Grave at St Nicholas’s.


The story of the innocent-done-wrong John Davies is here, although it does look fairly grassed over now so maybe his true guilt is coming to the fore at last. As mentioned already, Montgomery is a little way of the Path, so it’s probably a good mile to get back on Dyke-track, along the fun-filled B4386. Just as we get near the Path again there’s a little bridge – the County Boundary Bridge – over a small stream. I peered over and just below me on a branch by the top of the arch was something blue. I at first thought it was some litter, such brilliant blue being impossible in nature surely!? But no – it was of course a kingfisher, literally just a few feet below me. You could guarantee that no matter how long I stared at it, the moment my moved towards my camera he’d be off. And that’s what happened, into the brookside trees somewhere. I hung around for a bit seeing if he would come out but he didn’t. Still nice to see one, only the second kingfisher I’ve ever seen, and so close up too. Back with the Dyke now, and although it’s low and level the views are nice.

Montgomery Castle from afar on the left, and a dusty wheat-field on the right. I thought he was burning stubble at first, but nope just dust. By the looks of it. As is the way with flat lowish-level walking most of today was fairly uneventful. Never dull though!
The views were still marvellous. Although again I can’t recall what it is we’re actually viewing here. Past the Devil’s Hole, the Camlad and the motte & bailey at Nantcribba there’s plenty to keep us interested. But once past Forden there’s a couple of miles of road walking until we’re the other side of Kingswood. In to and up through Green Wood, high above Rabbit Bank and Chimney Piece. It all felt a bit deserted up here, there was the odd building and large Victorian garden walls & ponds and pheasant & foul running about everywhere – but not a soul to be seen. It turns out we’re in the Leighton Estate, now a forestry plantation. The ponds were reservoirs for the estate’s water works, and suitably called “Offa’s Pool”. I thought I’d taken more photos round here as it seemed quite eerie like a Marie Celeste of woodlands, but evidently I hadn’t!


A bit more ascent takes up to the iron age hill fort at Beacon Ring, at over 1300ft. And as you’d expect the views of the Severn Valley below are smashing.
As are the views of the distant Breidden Hills and the not so distant Phillips’s Gorse wood. It was all downhill now to Lanymynech but still quite a way so there looked to be no nasty steep descents as we passed Salvagog Dingle and the aptly named Buttington View. It’s all mainly farmland here, which itself can make for the occasional unexpected sight.
I wouldn’t have been surprised to see an overly-friendly collie – although it was a shame I didn’t. Stile poetry is not altogether unexpected either – although still nice. But I must confess I hadn’t expected to see a cow in manacles. Understandably she doesn’t look too happy about either! But as the farmland drags on this it doesn’t really make for the most exciting scenery.

The relative novelty of a business park dedicated to our Dyke makes a nice change, but shortly after that the Path takes us straight through the middle of a freshly ploughed field. Pleasant walking that wasn’t!
The next few miles are along the valley floor of the Hafren and although flat and easy walking are very tedious. Lots of search and rescue helicopters were buzzing about, which like the manacled cow broke up the monotony a bit. When we eventually got to Gornel farm we encountered the first (and indeed only) major change in the route since my elderly guide was published. My guide says go round the east of it, but these days you head round the west. The friendly farmer could see exactly what I was doing and helpfully pointed me the right way as he and his family got on with their business. Then as I got to other side of the farm I made two new friends! See, you’re bound to see a friendly collie sooner or later round these parts.


The farmer saw our immediate bond, and said I could keep them! I could take as many as I liked – obviously not wishing to be lumbered with anymore of these commonplace canines. Sadly I couldn’t have if I wanted to – which I did. Not looking back was impossible as I walked away collie-less. I hope they found good homes! By now I’m pretty tired and glad Llanymyneth is only a mile or so to go.

Realising I had no time to eat my apple I was lucky to find a willing recipient to save it going to waste. The guide-book mentions here to look for the fancy iron-work on the Golden Lion – but I’m more intrigued by the silly pub sign. The local scarecrow at (I think) Pont-y-Person marked the home-stretch into town which was all along the Ellesmere and Montgomery Canal.

This was recently re-opened just a couple of years before my guide was published and it mentions that some work was still necessary. Some work is still necessary I would say, but I am no canal expert. It was a nice change to walk along the canal, and they always make pleasant scenery – but while a waterways vista is good for the soul, at the end of a long day those tow-paths can be very tough on the soles! At last – Llanymynech! A pint in the Dolphin, food in the Bradford Arms (and a stupid argument about whether Cornwall is a country or a county…!) and more beer and then bed in the basic but decent and friendly Cross Keys. Cheers Hattie, should you ever read this! Top

Day 8 – Llanymynech – Froncysyllte, 18miles.

A fine breakfast with much personal attention from the owner of the Cross Keys, in the large empty dining, set me up nicely for the day. The climbing started almost immediately on leaving Llanymynech with Pen-y-Foel and Fron-goch waiting for us.


The views from Llanymynech Hill west towards the Berwyn Mountains were good, despite the foggy start. But the views of the herd of very nosey and very skinny cattle around Pen-y-Coed somewhere were not as nice. Looks like someone else needs a good breakfast too, I suspect they think that’s what I’ve come to see them for.


The Tanat Valley Light Railway on the way in to Porth-y-waen, built in 1904 for the quarries and mines round here didn’t last long. And is in need of a bit of trim!


Another steep clamber takes up and over Moelydd, nearly 1000ft above sea-level, and then into Trefonen – the home of the brewery no less! And indeed home to two little owls hiding from a swooping eagle. Trefonen has a lot for a little place!


The ascent up through Candy Wood to Baker Hill is long but gentle. Some forestry work fills the air the pungent and pleasant smell of Radox! The top of Baker Hill is wide and flat, and the remains of a race course are clearly visible. Unfortunately the carefully described view is obscured by trees now, so I have a play on the Janus Horse instead. I didn’t know whether I was coming or going!! Lack of access over Baker Hill forces us to walk along a road for a short while, which is a shame as the route of the Dyke looks pretty nice indeed here.


On leaving the road we start climbing again up Selattyn Hill, a healthy 1300ft. At the top a hand-operated info-sign-post points the way and tells us all about the Selattyn Tower but I dare not leave the Path, even to visit a small ruined folly.


Dropping down Selattyn Hill we hit the B4579, where the point the Dyke crosses is marked by large crenellated Victorian stone tower. Below this is the disused Craignant quarry, and lime-kilns. This is also a handy area for an al-fresco toilet break – a LDWer needs to know this kind of thing!

A point of interest here, that I might not have noticed here unless some locals who had seen me reading the information boards (and initially thought I might be intent on vandalism!!) as it’s not mention in the guide, is the Oak at the Gate of Dead. A giant oak tree, as old as the Dyke itself, and sadly recently split in two by frost damage. Well worth stopping off at for a few moments.


After passing up through Gwyningar Wood, Chirk Castle – continuously occupied since 1310 – dominates the view. The view now also includes the first glimpse of my home county – Cheshire. Always a nice sight! The open farmland here was home to many swallows too. Lovely to see, tricky to photograph. I wasted a good 20minutes here trying to get a half-decent photo, before giving up!


We can see Llangollen approaching now, and perhaps the upside down Path sign-posts are a warning of the relative urban shock that is to come! But it’s odd how even some chemical works can look picturesque from a distance, in sunshine, surrounded by greenery!
But more sad than thinking chemical works look nice is this…

This is the last bit of the Dyke we shall see. There will be no more Dyke for the next two days, and after over a week with it being an almost constant companion and guide it will be odd to be without it. Especially as we will still be on the Dyke Path. But onwards we must go, fare thee well ancient old earth work of Offa!



As usual at this time of day my feet are getting sore and the tow-path of the Llangollen Canal is hard, but my night’s rest – Glencoed – is not far away. But worringly I realise that Glencoed is on the other side of the cut. And my map shows no bridges any time soon. How many more miles is this going to add?! But just as I was getting a bit annoyed at the prospect of extra distance I come across a tunnel underneath the canal, seemingly only used for a riding school there – and it comes out right at the end of the Glencoed’s driveway. Perfect!
Glencoed is one the nicest places I stayed, and I had half the house to myself. Froncysyllte though is no place to be on a Saturday night. The one pub was deserted and wasn’t doing food, and it’s boast of views of the aqueduct aren’t much good in the dark. Still I managed to enjoy a couple of pints before returning back to the B&B via the local chippy. My hosts insisted on providing me with a plate and cutlery as I went to dine in my private lounge – and turned on the telly for the first time since leaving home.

In my room there was huge old teak or mahogany clock on a mantlepiece. Curiosity got the better of me and I dragged it forward to see if I could see the workings from the back. I couldn’t, so I pushed it back and was to horrified to find there was a huge scratch on the surface where I’d moved the heavy timepiece!! Oops!! What shall I do!?

After waking to the tune of a blue tit right outside my window, I shamefully owned up to the scratch over breakfast, but to say I was relieved when they told me that it was already there from someone else doing the same thing some time before is an understatement!! See – honesty is always the best policy, sometimes. Glencoed is a lovely lovely place. Top

Day 9 – Froncysyllte to Llandegla, 11miles.

A nice short day today, but one filled with some real treats. The first one just down the road. Or just down the canal, I should say – the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. I’d seen this on telly a million times, or there-abouts, and I was thrilled to be seeing it in its stone & iron flesh.

You can go two ways; the official route drops down to Dee enabling you to look up at the aqueduct or the alternative is take the high road and look down from the aqueduct – and indeed see it up close.  What a choice!! So I did both. Choosing to do more is always easier first thing in the morning! (I’ll also add at this point that it was not a windy day!) I’m sure most are you familiar with the aqueduct already, so won’t bore you with it too much. But the photos do speak for themselves – it is a marvelous sight!

I’d much rather cross it by foot than by narrowboat!

And it really is worth investigating the high & low options, if you’re a fan of Georgian canal engineering. And who isn’t?

The Dee too makes for some picturesque vistas.

The bridge that takes the “proper” route, and B5434, over the Dee is pretty fine itself too.

After all the bridge excitement we carry along the canal where it branches off west for a short while. Well, it should be a short while but I just assumed that two people ahead of me with the rucksacks were also on the Path so inexplicably just followed them. It was probably a good half mile or so before I realised that the bridge crossing the canal “with the sloping stone slabs for the horses” was actually about half a mile back. Damn. But as I was heading roughly in the right direction I just carried on along the canal until I got to the next bridge, near Bron Heulog, and crossed there and headed north back to the path. And it turned out that I hadn’t really added an awful lot of extra time or distance. This is the right sort of going the wrong way!


It also enabled me to catch a convoy of vintage lorries chugging along the Trevor Road, presumably off to a rally somewhere – unless there’s a particularly thrifty haulier based in these parts. And the path back up to the Path took me past a rather quaint little cottage, with nothing but trees for neighbours. Very nice.

It’s a steep clamber up to Trevor Rocks but the views from the top are magnificent, especially Castell Dinas Bran.

The Dee Valley is still pretty nice too.

The Path is now on a long but quiet road as it passes under the limestone crags of Creig iau Eglwyseg, and as road-walking goes it’s not too bad – the crags providing impressive surroundings. (The second fine sight of the day, after the morning’s bridges).

And there’s a friendly horse at Dinbren-uchal or Bryn Cottage or at some point along the way (I forget exactly where) who’s desperate to help me out with the more healthy parts of my packed-lunch. What could I do?!

We finally leave the road, and I stop for a rest at a little brook near Bryn Goleu. A very pleasant spot for a break before carrying on along a pretty percarious little path amongst the scree. Still, a slight improvement on the road though. The scree-ey path continues on crossing the occasional little gully in what is a attractively-desolate area. It looks like it could’ve been used a Doctor Who location. After a small wood we come out on to a road at a tight hairpin at a spot called “World’s End”, the guide-book says that this spot attracts many artists and picnickers but I thought it was a bit dark and dank. I stopped here by the Eglwyseg for lunch here where it fords across the road. It would have been nicer if it wasn’t near the road!

After lunch I set off up the road, and walked along with a couple who said something along lines of that they like just to drive off to the middle of nowhere on the spur of the moment, go out walking and not talk to each all day. Sounds good to me!
After a pretty dull stretch of road we turn off NW and through an area of extremely marshy moorland, apparently akin to the Pennine Way (one for the future!). Thank goodness for the numerous duck-boards that someone had thoughtfully put down.
Having survived the bogs we enter a conifer plantation. After a few miles of exposure it’s nice to be in woodland, although it is also a favourite of the local mountain bikers.

And the myriad mushrooms along the made me late (stopping to take photos) – and hungry (although I didn’t stop to pick any!)
Just after the woods we’re in Llandegla, and my B&B is on the far-side up a hill. Head-down and on auto-pilot I walk someway right past the turning for it. But eventually make it back to Bryn Dwr by the River Alun. And very nice situation, and very friendly hosts with a very big dog. It’s one of those B&Bs where are you right in their living space. But it’s all very nice. The chap drove me down to the Plough Inn for fodder and (coloured) water but I think I walked back. My room was right near the lounge & front-door though, so my night wasn’t as early as I’d fancied. Maybe I’ll take one of their pods next time! Top

Day 10 – Llandegla to Bodfari, 18miles.

A misty start to a long day, but the penultimate day. The whiff of Prestatyn is not far away now, hmmm… but it looked to be a nice walk over the Clwydian Mountains would surely make for a nice day. If the mist ever lifts.


Once up in the hills though above Llandegla, the mist does as least make for striking views.


And the local flora and fauna seem well adapted to it.

The mushrooms don’t object to the dampness either!

The mist kept coming and going for the first part of the Clwydians, past Moel y Gelli, Moel y Plas and Moel Llanfair so as we were at best above and at worst in it, the views were not great and everywhere – and everything was very damp. Staring at rocks and heather as we went up & down wasn’t the most exciting walking.

All the way along there are lots of signs and notices explaining that some footpaths – well, bridlepaths I assume, are closed or have been diverted because of a quad-bike race that’s taking place later in the day. Not an exciting prospect!
Round about Moel Gyw somewhere I see a sheep lying on its side at the side of the track, breathing heavily and foaming and bloodied at the mouth it’s obviously not too well. But James Herriot I am not, so there’s little I can do. A little later I come across one of the marshalls getting ready for the impending quad-bike race and tell her about the poorly sheep. Reassuringly she said she knew the farmer and would let him know, so fingers crossed the sheep is alive & well and still bounding about nibbling Clwydian grass to this day. I doubt it though. Some good news though – looks like my timing was good so I never had to encounter the quad-bikes!

It is clearing up a bit by the time we get in to Llanbedr and the views are super.


I think we’re looking over Ruthin in the photo on the left, and to the right is Foel Fammau – with a curious rendition of Munch’s The Scream in the heather.


From Foel Fenlli I look down to Bwlch Penbarraa and see a horrible sight – a busy car-park!! Of course, this is Sunday lunch-time and all the day-trippers are out in force now the skies have cleared and the sun is out. My solitude won’t be lasting much longer. The descent down to the car-park was very steep, but seeing a poor sheep that had found herself at Loggerheads lifted the spirits a little.

The path heading up away from Bwlch Penbarra was wide and busy. Families with lively kids running about in shorts and trainers mithering for an ice-cream as I carrying on slogging away with hot heaving boots and bulging rucksack was a little irritating. I would’ve loved an ice-cream too mind. They soon slowed down as we continued on up to Moel Fammau though.


The views were cracking, but surely all these local Sunday drivers couldn’t have just been out to see the views could they?

No, they’re all climbing up to the Jubilee Tower. A tower not for our present Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but ‘Mad’ King George’s Golden one. All very nice at the top, but we can’t dilly dally and pleasingly as we head-off all the afternoon strollers head off the other way back to their cars, and peace and quiet is restored.


But I wonder how long the peace and quiet would last for as I spy 1000s and 1000s of mountain bikers crawling up the hills at speeds so slow you wonder why they bother. They stay away – for now, and I’m left to enjoy the view of Moel Arthur and the television transmitter at Moel y Parc beyond. I pass some of the mountain bikers in a layby at the bottom of Moel Arthur noisily exchanging tales of their day, and pass more carrying their bikes down the hill, clearly having given up on cycling and realising walking is a much better option.

As the Bodfari buzzard soaring above us the end of the day can’t be far away.


The Path takes us right through the middle of a huge old hill fort which, as often happens, I omitted to take any photos of and to be honest have no recollection of. I did however take a photo of what looks like a memorial cairn, but have no recollection of that either. The views from the Clwydians though are unforgettable!


We pass a nice DIY project for someone with some time and plaster on their hands, which reminds me of one of Private Fraser’s best war-time stories, and then we are soon high above Bodfari itself.


The descent is long and the end marked by Grove Hall, and there then follows a long and rather boring walk along roads and the odd field to actually get into Bodfari. The Bodfari buzzard is back to welcome us.

When I got as far as the Downing Arms, I slipped my boots off and settled down to several refreshing refreshments as I was warned by the landlady at my B&B for the night that there’d be nowhere to get food in Bodfari on a Sunday night. “Where will I eat?” I asked her, “Don’t worry” she said “I’ll see you alright.”
So let’s get rehydrated here and then eat back at the B&B and retire for the evening – I wasn’t coming back out as it was a good a mile up hill to Fron Haul and my bed.

Amusingly in the pub there was a group of fellows who were walking the Path in the opposite direction, and were all full of glee and high of spirits – if only they’d asked to hear my tales of what the Path had in store for them! Anyways, I drank up put my boots back on and continued the hike up the hill and out of Bodfari.


The early evening views of the distant mountains – possibly Snowdonia – were grand.

The sad state of an old penned-in Land Rover and Austin 35 were not quite as easy on the eye though. Soon I was at Fron Haul – and what grand looking place it was!

I knocked on the door, and knocked again. Eventually a lady opened it and peering through the gap – “Hello?”
“Hello!” I said “Tim Matthews!”
“Am I expecting you?” said the lady.
“Yes… this is Fron Haul right?”
“Yes, but I’m not expecting anyone.”
“Oh are you sure?”
“Yes, definitely no reservations tonight.”
“Are you Gladys?”
“Yes”
“I spoke to you just the other week to double-check. You even told me there’d be no food available on a Sunday night in Bodfari, and you’d ‘see me right’.”
“Hmmm… well, that does sound like me… you’d better come in.”

Anyways, it turned out what had happened was that there was a Canadian family who were a day ahead of me (I heard of them in Kington at the Church House) and unfortunately they’d lost their passports along the route at some point and sadly had to cancel the rest of the walk so they could get on to the Embassy and sort all that nonsense out. When Gladys had cancelled their booking at Fron Haul she got a bit carried away and thought everyone for that night had cancelled – including me. But it was all ok in the end, I was here now.
And if the Canadians should ever read this – I hope everything worked out ok for you! And you’ll be back to finish the Dyke soon!

But what an amazing place Fron Haul is. Huge and quirky, bursting with character, knick-knacks, ornaments, objets d’art, stuff, bits & peices and odds & ends, rooms on rooms on rooms! She showed me up to my room, the bathroom across the landing and the television lounge next door. Needless to say I was the only person there. The place like a huge old haunted mansion, except it was quite lovely. And up for sale too like Glencoed. Oh which shall I buy?! Fron Haul’s 25acres sure beats Bryn Dwr’s measily 7! I expect bankers have both by now.




After a very tasty tea of steak, mushroom, mash, cauliflower and goodness knows what else, Gladys asked if I’d enjoyed.
“Yes, thank you Gladys – very tasty!” I said, dabbing my lips with a heavy cotton napkin.
“Good” she said “because before you walked in, apart from the steak everything on that plate was still out in the garden!”

What a fantastic place!

The view from window was idyllic, and the Fron Haul sunset was lovely. I think my final Dyke resting place was my favourite. Good old Fron Haul! Top

Day 11. Bodfari to Prestatyn, 12miles.

A nice shortish day for the nice last day was made even shorter by Fron Haul being maybe half a mile out of Bodfari, so today would only be more like 11½miles, which is nice as I can’t see this leg being the most thrilling walking – despite the attempts of the guide to reassure the Dyker to the opposite, and I have a luncheon date in Prestatyn with my old fella.

It’s a good steady climb away from Bodfari up past Sodom (no, I didn’t look back…) but once we’re up high again the views are again lovely.

The Vale of Clwyd opens up ot the west, and although the views don’t really change much all the way over Cefn Du that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The photo on the right is what I thought was St Asaph’s – that of Britain’s smallest cathedral city – but it actually turns out to St Margaret’s of Bodelwyddan which just beyond St Asaph. And is a more striking church, from a distance at least.



Snowdon in the distance somewhere doesn’t seem to be moving much as approach Rhuallt and cross over the bypass.



There isn’t really an awful lot to keep us hugely excited here, although the walking is still very nice. The occasional pheasant can be seen around Mynydd y Cwm looking a bit edgy with the season approaching fast. And from Marian Ffrith we get a first good look at the sea we’re heading towards, although this is Colwyn Bay – a little way down the coast from our destination.



Not long after here we pass the remains of the old Marian Mills, and then in no time we’re on top of the cliffs some 700ft above Prestatyn. And boy does this bit drag on… ups & downs and most of time shrouded in gorse and hawthorn so you can’t even enjoy the view. Every descent you hope it’s going to be the one that keeps going down, but no – it’s goes back up again. The opposite of “false summits”!



But after a good couple of miles – which seems much longer – we’re at the end of the cliffs. Spying the mythical floating wind-farm we finally start to drop. First through a suburban housing estate and then into Prestatyn town centre. Both are pretty much as you’d expect and are at worst unremarkable. Despite all the bad press there’s certainly worst places than Prestatyn really. Although an apostrophe for the pub wouldn’t go a miss.



It’s a long straight road past the football club and seaside souvenir shops to the end of the walk, its explanatory plaque and symbolic piece of public art, representing I can’t remember what. A couple of snaps, a quick look in the visitor centre, and then another quarter of mile and I’m in the pub for fish & chips and a pint with my Dad a good 5 minutes early.



It’s not a bad old walk really! Top

Flickr album with all 617 photos, for you delight and delectation.

Accommodation :

Chepstow – Upper Sedbury Guest House, NP16 7HN. 01291 927173
Monmouth – Drybridge B&B, NP25 5AD. 01600 715495
Pandy – The Lancaster Arms, NP7 8DW. 01873 890699
Hay-on-Wye – Rest for the Tired, HR3 5DB. 01497 820550.
Kington – The Church House, HR5 4AG. 01544 230534.
Knighton – Whtcwm Cottage, LD7 1HF. 07904 971866.
Montgomery – The Dragon Hotel, SY15 6PA. 01686 668359.
Llanymynech – The Cross Keys, SY22 6EA. 01691 831585.
Froncysyllte – Glencoed, LL14 5AN. 01691 778148.
Llandegla – Bryn Dwr, LL11 3AW. 01978 790612.
Bodfari – Fron Haul, LL16 4Dy. 01745 710301.

Home.

 

Offa’s Dyke Path, September 2011.

Offa’s Index.

Day 1 – Chepstow to Monmouth, 18miles.
Day 2 – Monmouth to Pandy, 17miles.
Day 3 – Pandy to Hay-on-Wye, 18miles.
Day 4 – Hay-on-Wye to Kington, 15miles.
Day 5 – Kington to Knighton, 14miles.
Day 6 – Knighton to Montgomery, 18miles.
Day 7 – Montgomery to Lanymynech, 19miles.
Day 8 – Llanymynech – Froncysyllte, 18miles.
Day 9 – Froncysyllte to Llandegla, 11miles.
Day 10 – Llandegla to Bodfari, 18miles.
Day 11 – Bodfari to Prestatyn, 12miles.

******

Part 1. (South)

Horses

Having crossed England coast to coast, west to east, from sea to shining sea, I was wondering where to go next. The idea of crossing England still appealed to me, from a coast to a coast again – from a sea to another shining sea. And by twisting as many definitions of this as I could, I decided that walking south to north along the English / Welsh border would do just fine. And by English / Welsh border I do of course mean the border according that great old Mercian king Offa who eponymous marked it with his eponymous dyke, so hopefully it would be easy to follow the route. And then those nice National Trails people have gone and made it even easier to follow some 1200 years later, so what’s not to love?

First off I had to procure myself a couple of guide-books (north & south sections). I decided on the official National Trails guides, having had a good experience of them from my Thames Path jaunt. As is my way I managed to find them both on eBay for a quid each, saving me a good £20. They were the 1994 editions but I was sure that over the past 1200 years, the last 17 wouldn’t have made much difference. But just to be sure I checked with National Trail people themselves, and they said they’d be fine – there had been just a few minor changes in that time but nothing to cause any problems, and it was well way-marked anyways. See – I told they were nice!

Accommodation was booked with the help of a popular search engine  with little problem – no Coast-to-Coast type popularity issues here!

I’d read the walk is not the most spectacular nor the most demanding, and with lots of stiles. Still, “unspectacular” in terms of British walks can often mean “still very nice indeed”.

Right, so that’s 177 miles in 10 days – as the Lemmings say – “Let’s go!”

Day 1 – Chepstow to Monmouth, 18miles.

Day 1 actually started the day before with a very leisurely train journey from Paddington to Chepstow, stopping off in the lovely Cotswold village of Bisley for a fine pie & ale lunch with my good friends the Merrys. What better way to start any holiday?

Having got to Chepstow and a quick pint in town I found my over to Upper Sedbury, a couple of miles back towards the Severn and nearer the start of the Path. After some time I found my B&B and after some more time finally managed to get in – much knocking, ringing of the bell and ringing of the telephone was required to stir meine hosts from their evening telly. I dined out in a nearby pub that was still being built by the looks of it, but slept well.


I was off and away at a decent enough time in the morning, but I was bit annoyed at having to walk along the Dyke to get to the start of it. At least I’d not be getting lost for the first mile or so of the walk proper! So I metaphorically closed my eyes and ignored anything resembling an earthwork until I got my a glimpse of my source sea, well the Severn Estuary but it’s big enough to be a sea.


Once you first see the Dyke itself you can’t fail to impressed by how, well, impressive it still is after more than 1200 years. I wonder how long Offa wondered it would last for…? I couldn’t work out if walking along the top of it is respectful or disrespectful. I’ll go for respectful. Certainly more respectful than driving a farm track through it! But I suppose life must go on, and so must house building! This Dyke-top modern estate shows how substantial parts of it still are:

So far this early stretch through Sedbury and Tutshill has been very urban, but all walks have to start somewhere.


Tutshill offers us a fine view of Chepstow Castle and the Wye below. Tantalisingly ye olde guide-book says of this point “As a whimsy, on a stone wall just beneath the Path is a stone model of the Severn Bridge with a menagerie of stone animals processing across”. Well, I looked and looked and even asked a bemused passer-by (noteworthy in itself as there were to be very few passers-by on the this walk) but I couldn’t find it anywhere. If anyone does find it let me know! Finally passing along the medieval “Donkey Lane” we leave suburbia behind us – it’s just us and the Dyke.

The view from Wintour’s Leap is a fine view indeed. After here the Dyke takes us away from the river, leaving the Lancaut peninsula to the Welsh and we find ourselves on the roads again for a short while.


Although it’s a cloudy day it’s quite warm and very humid. Close, you might say. And we’ve been heading steadily up all the way since we started. So what a relief it was – and indeed a lovely gesture – to happen across the water left out for us by the good people at Little Chase, in the vicinity of Dennel Hill. I fairly took my fill and sadly there was no-one about to thank – so take this a thank you Little Chasers! Your refreshing thoughtfulness (or maybe they were just fed up of people knocking at their door with water bottles prematurely emptied!?) spurred me on to get to the spectacular vista of Tintern Abbey from the Devil’s Pulpit.


The woodland here in Casswell Wood is thick and verdant, and it was about that I got lost. Or rather not lost, but went the wrong way. And through no fault of my own. Let me explain. I caught up with a group of other walkers, all quite elderly but sprightly and clearly game for a stroll – although naturally not quite as quickly as my slightly younger legs were capable of (“quickly” here is strictly relative I must stress!). After a couple of hellos I established that they were walking the Dyke too, and I followed along not wishing to push past on the narrow path through  the trees. The path started to descend quite steeply, and was a bit slippy over tree roots and stones and some of the besticked-ladies were struggling, so they did stand aside and let me pass as the somewhat mouthy and not so nearly as amiable gentlemen at the front forged on. There were probably 12 or 15 of them in total and they were doing the Path in bits & pieces. I asked what time they’d left Chepstow this morning… “Nooo! – we’re going to Chepstow!!” they replied. I couldn’t quite work it out – how had I managed to catch up with them when we were going in opposite directions!?  I tried pointing out that I had come from where they were going to, so if we were now both going the same way on some path that I hadn’t been on yet, either I had gone very very wrong and come right again or they were wrong. One of us must have gone wrong, and the loud & proud men made it quite clear as to whom it was. “Hohoho got it wrong there lad!”, “Oh dear… you’re gonna have go all the way back up thurrrrr oh dear oh dear!” etc. Which, working out that something was clearly wrong here, I did, leaving them smug but still with their still steep descent, presumably down to the river, trying to work out where I had got it wrong. When I got back to the point where we’d met I realised what had happened.
Imagine a sort of T-shape junction of paths, where I was heading up the bottom bit and they were heading across the top-right bit. (Is there a term for sections of characters?) The men at the front of their group must have just blithely carried on across the top of the T, instead of coming down my bit. We met just as the back of the group was at the junction point, and were following the rest of them along the top-left bit. Are you following?? So they’d already gone wrong, but assuming we were on the same route I just followed them. Then I wondered why it didn’t occur to them how we’d both ended up walking together – as the easiest way for such a thing is by us both going wrong. I wish I could have seen the men’s faces when they did eventually realise that they were way, way, off the right path. Oh dear, oh dear oh dear. I’m sure the ladies gave them some stern fed-up looks as they made their way back a pretty steep climb.
Anyways, I was back on the Dyke now – now becoming a familiar sight.

We’re given a choice now at this point, like Radio 4 going on to LW. The high route which actually still follows the route of the Dyke, or the riverside route which is slightly longer but avoids going up. As I was going to be seeing plenty of the Dyke over the next 10 days (well, apart from the next 3 as we will see!) I went for the easier-going riverside path. And very nice it was too, the valley floor having more mint in it than a Wrigley’s warehouse! The Wye is unhurried, gentle and very relaxing – a wise choice of routes I think!

The next few miles were fairly uneventful as I remember, fields and woods – nothing too strenuous. Nothing strenuous that is until the climb up the Kymin, with its Naval Temple and fine views.


The steep walk down to Monmouth is jarring but it’s nice to know that we’re nearly at the end of the day, and it was getting dusk by the time I’d stopped for a pint or two at the first pub I saw – not realising that I still had a fair walk through Monmouth to my B&B, which although was on a main road was very “well hidden”, ie. had no signage, for reasons best kept to the eccentric but charming landlady. Although it is on the internet… hmmm curious. This also shows that recording the OS grid references for accommodations that are in towns isn’t quite so useful as the actual address!

Monmouth and its 13th Century bridge are very pretty, but the relative hustle of the evening “rush-hour” was a shock after a day of relative peace. I filled up for tomorrow at a Spa, ate well and slept likewise. Top

Day 2 – Monmouth to Pandy, 17miles.

The day began with me retracing my steps past the Spa which I wandered to while looking for the B&B last night for today’s lunch. I could have popped in this morning! But after a bowl of porridge that had been prepared in a very, very, Scottish way indeed I was in no mood for corner shop pleasantries. Surely you ask whether a diner requires copious amounts of salt when on this side of the border? Or does being on this side of the Welsh border mean similarly foul porridge preparations??
The second shock of the morning was the news from the guide-book that just as I was getting used to it, we weren’t going to see anything of the Dyke today. Or tomorrow… or the day after! What kind of Dyke path is this!? But it does promise other joys.

The first obstacle of the day is the apparently once treacherous Bailey’s Pits, now improved by fine and welcome bridging work. This bit would have been a bit of a muddy scramble in the old days. But then immediately after we came across the second obstacle…


… the way into the King’s Wood had been blocked by a gargantuan fallen tree. With a Herculean effort I managed to get over it, and my correct path was confirmed by the 1859 boundary marker.
The woods are not an unpleasant place, passing through Whitehill Wood, Great Garrow Wood, Calling Wood, Limekiln Wood, Hendre Great Wood, Dingle Wood and – my favourite – Telltale Wood. Although to be honest they all looked very much the same to me.


Crossing the Abbey Bridge (the Grace Dieu Abbey is long gone) over the Trothy eventually takes us to Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern and its wonderfully named medieval church of St. Michael’s of the Fiery Meteor. Shortly after here at Pen-pwll-y-calch we’re rewarded with fine views of Sugar Loaf and Skirrid to the north.


I’d never been in an orchard before, the nearest I came were a few scrawny apple trees in our garden growing up. Scrumping was never the thing in Cheshire. But that was to change at Penrhos Farm (not the scrumping bit I hasten to add – you’ll see tomorrow what I prefer to do with apples!). It was quite surreal – the neat rows of relatively small trees struggling – and often failing – to bear the weight of so much fruit. There’s a warning to keep dogs on leads for obvious reasons, but it turns out the orchard is for Bulmers so I’m not sure it would make much difference if Fido was to cock his leg.
The neat geometry of the trees is a little off-putting so I’m glad when we’re out of it. And into Llantilio Crossenny, where the sadly the 1459 village inn is now closed and presumably a rich man’s house.


The site of the Hen Cwrt, a 12th century manor belonging to the bishops of Llandaff, is just down the road so I went for a little wander. Only the moat now remains, and to me looks rather better than an 800-year pond might have looked.
Llantilio Crossenny is soon dealt with and we leave through a field that has the most numerous and most sizable mushrooms I’ve ever seen! I must have had a sheltered fungi life though, as many many more and much much bigger mycologica were yet to come.


The path now goes through some farm-land, and the good thing about walking through corn-fields is that it’s hard to get lost. And thankfully today the crow-scarers didn’t mistake the casual rambler for the farmer’s dreaded foe. After all the peace and quiet of late BIG BANGS!!!! would have been somewhat startling.


Some nice stone-work treats are in store now. Firstly is Old Treadam House, dating from 1600. It’s tucked just behind a pub that would more suited to one of the more modern suburbs of Milton Keynes rather than rural Welsh Wales. Not long after this is the very impressive White Castle, one of three Norman shows of might in the area. It was a lovely day and I pretty much had the place to myself, so it was well worth spending half an hour exploring and boots-off sandwich eating.
My guide says “It was a happy thought to route the Path on the track round the castle since it gives a splendid chance to appreciate it from a range of aspects” and indeed it does – I couldn’t be happier at such a thought!

There are lovely views to be had around here, but shamefully I can’t remember which way this looking nor what the hills are in the distance. I think I took it from the hill where the White Castle is, but I can’t be sure. The perils of writing up a walk 18 months after the event! It is rather nice view though, I think you’ll agree.


The open farmland now gives way to tarmac for a short while on the way to Llangattock-lingoed. It’s worth turning eyes-left for a glimpse of the Jacobean Old Court farmhouse, and then eyes-right for the medieval church of St Cadoc’s – confusingly white-washed since my guide-book had photographed it. Apparently inside there is a lovely old 15th Century mural of St George doing what St George does with dragons. An odd choice for Wales you’d think but apparently the experts say it refers to the bopping that Owain Glyndwr got back then, so we’ll say no more of it as there’s plenty more border-hopping to come yet.


More fine views were to be had as we approached Pandy, but it was quite a drop down to my destination and horror of horrors – a main road!! I could see where my B&B was, but couldn’t quite see the path. So just made a bee-line for it, which kinda worked. I got there!
The Lancaster Arms was a fine choice of accommodation. It was a pub until recently, and although now closed inside it is still exactly like a big old country pub. So in I went, muddy and tired, and perched myself on a barstool while landlady Sandra poured me a tin of beer. I was the only guest. Landlord Keith turned up and with their lively but friendly dogs we all had another drink or two. I later walked to a pub perhaps 1/2 mile down the road, getting absolutely drenched in the process but a bloody excellent pie made up for it. Please note that as you can see the Lancaster Arms does not provide Gideon’s Bibles in the bedside cabinets!
For a place with nothing except an open pub, a closed pub and a main road I had a very pleasant stay in Pandy. Top

Day 3 – Pandy to Hay-on-Wye. 18miles

So far the walking had been gentle but pleasant, and the weather also had been gentle but pleasant. I could get used to this! What could the Tolkienesque-sounding Black Mountains possibly have in store I wonder…? But ridge walking is always more fun than being down low, so bring it on Hay Bluff!



After passing Groes-lwyd it is a long steep steady ascent up on to Hatterall Ridge, but the weather is fine and the only company is equine so it’s a nice walk upwards. The photo at the top of this page was taken here, round about Upper Pentwyn somewhere, although I seemed to miss the Iron Age hill fort that I apparently walked through the middle of.
At Three Wells farm the farmer has provided a nice touch with some barn-gable poetry. At the time the bright sunshine rendered it hard to read, but it turns out that it’s The Lofty Sky by World War One era poet Edward Thomas, killed at Aras. A rather apt verse for this neck of the woods, and especially as soon I was going to be getting plenty of sky!

But eventually we’re up on top of the ridge, where we’ll be for most of the day. And where better to be than all alone on top of a high Welsh ridge?! I don’t know.

As you’d expect the views are magnificent from up here – and also give warnings of the incoming weather. You could see the weather blackening the Black mountains, coming in from the west a good 10 or 15 minutes before waterproofs were required. And boy, were they required! When the weather hit, it HIT. From sunshine, still air and blue skies to dark low cloud, lively high wind and lots of rain in which ever direction it fancied. And then after a 15 or 20 minutes, the blue skies would return – prompting me to take my waterproofs off. But as this pattern repeated probably 5 or 6 times along the top I soon decided it was better just to leave them on.

The guidebook says of this stretch that “walkers wanting to keep dry feet play an interesting game of ‘diversions’, competing to see how little extra distance they can to add to avoid the wet patches”. And it’s quite right. Although my boots were decent enough to keep the worst out,  the strong winds meant my waterproof trousers were flapping around like a high-seas ensign enabling much water to trickle down into my boots, saving it the effort of having to soak through. (I would later remedy this with underpant-elastic boot-straps. Always keep bits of elastic my Nan taught me!).

The dampness in the socks caused by this lead to an amusing little diversion. I had some minor blisters on my favourite blistering spots on the backs of my heels, which had been plastered so weren’t causing problems. But the plasters had got wet, so during one of the sunny spells I decided to sit down and enjoy a mini-pork pie and renew the plasters. As I applied the Elastoplast I accidentally dropped the peel-off backing which instantly caught on the breeze and fluttered away from me. “Bugger!” I thought, not wishing to contribute even the smallest amount of litter, so with one foot booted and one foot bare I pacily semi-tip-toed after it. But predictably every time I got near the pesky little thing the wind would catch it again and off it would fly – teasing me so! It did this in a circular route all the way round back to where I was originally sitting, and settled down more or less where I’d dropped it in the first place, and there it waited patiently for me to hobble back and claim it. I may as well just sat there and waited for it to boomerang back to me! The Welsh wind Gods were in mischievous mood!

When the sun was out the views were splendid, but unfortunately my camera didn’t want to focus, so quite a few photos up there didn’t come out. Definitely having absolutely nothing to do with operator error whatsoever it was odd when it strangely fixed itself a little later…



Just after Red Daren we get to a high point of the walk, literally the highest point. The guide says 2,306ft, my GPS says 2,310ft so assuming I was holding it 4ft above the ground we were both exactly right. So it’s all downhill from here. Very very downhill indeed in a short while as it happens. The descent from Hay Bluff down to the Gospel Pass road drops 600ft in half a mile. And was made no easier by the another stormy blast, the last – but the biggest and angriest – gale of the day.

This photo doesn’t really do it justice, it was gusting and raining all over the place. Usually directly in my face, and even knocking me over at one point. It turns out that all this weather was the back-end of Hurricane Irene that we’d heard so much about a couple of weeks before. If I had to be either end of it, I’d much prefer this end.



The way down Hay Bluff was as jarring and joyless as all steep descents, and resting in the stone circle at the bottom gave us a good view of where we’d come from. I think the sign-post to Pandy is indicating the vertical direction to take rather than a compass bearing.

The views down to Hay-on-Wye still looked fine, but even though it was only two miles to go it was going to be very unpleasant walking. It was still a good 300ft descent down to Hay, and although not particularly steep it seemed to drag on forever. And with all the rain dumped on the long grass that covers the path here it was very slippy. I ended up falling back on my arse at least 5 or 6 times. It was a very long two miles and was thoroughly fed up of it by the time I got to Hay. A very boring end to a great day – the worst bit of the walk. The evening was going to get worst though, but not for any walking reasons.


As we finally approached Hay, the cheery farm-life provided some more company to an otherwise day of almost complete solitude. And a big nosy pig insisted on an apply-treat before letting me pass. What else could I do?! (Proof of why you’re unlikely to see me scrumping!)

I got in to Hay, had a couple of pints in Kilverts and went off to find my B&B – the suitable monikered Rest for the Tired. A fine old Tudor looking book-shop-cum-B&B, although sadly I was housed in the very modern bit round the back. I went to eat at another pub, The Old Black Lion, and the pie & pint were both very nice but about half-way through the meal I was suddenly struck by terrible awful stomach-cramp, cramp like I’d never felt before. God knows what it was, but it felt I like I’d had Mike Tyson wallop me right in the belly-button. It was very very uncomfortable. I limped back to the B&B bent up, holding my stomach and crawled straight into bed.
It hurt a lot! I took painkillers and was a regular visitor to the loo for evacuations top & bottom – caused by the pain rather than “digestive” problems. I was seriously convinced that I would not be able to continue the walk, and tomorrow would have pack it all in and go home. I was at least thankful I was in a relative hub of civilisation that I could find some homeward transport from. Top

I slept not a jot…

Day 4 – Hay-on-Wye to Kington, 15miles.

That I didn’t feel too great this morning is somewhat of an understatement, very tired, very fed up and stomach still very painful. Although slightly better than it was the previous evening admittedly – and promisingly. I didn’t eat much for breakfast as it felt like there was nowhere for it go. I’m no medical man, and I just couldn’t understand what it was… I’d never had food poisoning but it didn’t feel like how I’d imagine that would feel. A medical mystery!

Anyways I set off to Kington, relieved that it was a slightly shorter day and also that the guidebook promised a “pleasant day’s walk”, hopefully meaning fairly easy going.  Like I said I was feeling a bit better, so I would see how I got on. So on my way I went, although still feeling like an abdominal punch bag. But would you believe it… within a few miles and an hour or so it the stomach cramps had faded! Just gone. Gone back to where-ever they’d come from. I was mightily relieved of course, but still have no idea what had caused them. All very bizarre – unpleasant and damned annoying!

I’m guessing such distractions account for the fact that I have few photos from the first half of the morning’s walk, despite there seemingly being some fine views to be had both the Wye and the wider landscape from Cae-Higgin. The one above is just after starting off in Hay, and pretty much sums up my mood at the time: blurry and grey! Although by the time I’d got to Bettws Dingle I was feeling better enough to be charmed by a hobbit house in a tree, and the trickle of the Cabalfa Brook.


After a pleasant-as-promised walk along Red Lane, past the aptly named Little Mountain we get to Newchurch.


The church at Newchurch may well be new, well relatively new – built in 1856 – but the font certainly isn’t. Dating from the 10th Century it’s one of the oldest things along the Path. Apart from all the stone circles, hill forts – and the Dyke itself of course. Compared to these the font is quite young I suppose!
I’m no church-goer, but I do like going in to churches. St Mary’s is nothing spectacular but cool and welcoming, with tea & biscuits provided. They were very well received! Of course the parish of Gladestry received a humble offering  in return for their Christian kindnesses.


Climbing up & down Disgwylfa Hill, and then up & down again, gets everything pumping. I liked the poetic plea against littering (surely they mean “dumper” rather than “dumpee”…?) and the views and high open land are very nice. And so it goes on for next mile or so, getting us ready for Hergest Ridge to come.


Hergest Ridge is a steep climb up but the open moorland at the top feels very big and open, it’s over 1,300ft and 3 miles long. The guidebook warns it might be breezy, and indeed it is certainly that. I can’t think why the race-course here is no longer in use…!

It had been quite warm today, but up here the wind took all that away which made a nice change. Being on high ground for a few miles is very nice, and especially on Hergest Ridge – a mysterious but familiar name from my childhood thanks to Mike Oldfield. Now I know what his fine Tubular Bells follow-up is all about!
But the bad thing about being up is coming down. The way down to into Kington and very long and very tedious, much of it along a road. I was half-tempted to ask the odd driver who passed for a lift! My feet were sore, and I was in a devil-may-care mood when I saw a bossy “do not touch” sign! Sadly I felt no more isolated though.

Finally into Kington, and what a charming place. Although slightly annoyingly my B&B – the Chruch House – was on the way in to town, and the nearest pub was much further along the road. I usually like a pint to wind down straight after the end of the day’s walking, but not if it means a lot of extra walking! So I checked straight in, and would go for refreshments later. But what a lovely B&B! Run by the Darwins – yes, related to the Darwin! – made me feel more like a guest in their beautiful home. And once in the bathroom I didn’t want to leave! The finest lavatory library I’ve seen yet in a long time.


But off to sample the night-life of Kington. Kington seemed to have everything you could need. Shops, restaurants, take-aways, some beautiful old buildings…

… and some fine pubs.


Be sure to check out the Olde Tavern, it was right on the other side of town from my B&B but if you like your pubs unchanged, as I do, this is a must see. I wish I could’ve stayed out later, but after last night’s fitful rest I need a good night tonight. Top

Day 5 – Kington to Knighton, 14miles.

After a perfect night’s sleep, followed by another luxurious bath (why not?), followed by perfect porridge, handmade by Mr Darwin in his perfect kitchen, I was all ready for what guide-book says is “the most enjoyable day’s walk of the whole Path”. A big claim indeed. But today we welcome the return of an old friend… the Dyke! We haven’t seen it for so long we’ve almost forgot what it looks like.

When I was a young ‘un an elderly relative lived near Knighton, (her memorable address was “The Nuek, Dog Kennel Lane…”) and she’d send us Christmas presents along the lines of key-rings emblazoned with “Knighton – the town on the Dyke”. Back then I had no idea what it meant, so I was looking forward to finally finding out.


The day got to off to a fine start, and in the cool morning air walking up to Bradnor Green, around Rhue Ville somewhere I saw a small furry thing dart across the path right in front of me, through a hedge and into the adjacent field and puff! he was gone. Far too fast for me to grab my camera, dangling around my neck inches from my hand, but I’m sure it was a stoat … or a weasel. No idea which, but it was quite a thrill.

Then steadily up past Bradnor Hill and its golf course, there’s more climbing up and round Rushok Hill – but afterwards the reward is return of the Dyke! The path has been well west of it for the couple of days, mainly because I think there’s not much of it left there. But now it is back with a vengeance – and looking fine!


Shortly after here, near Herrock Hill, I saw the biggest mushrooms I’d ever seen. This one…


… was easily 18inches high and a foot across. It would’ve made a good sombero, never mind a week’s worth of omelettes. I hope someone found a good use for it! The views were lovely as we continued past Ditchyeld Bridge and Burfa Bank – I could see why the guide-book was getting so excited now. And the sheep here were the most attentive yet; I assume they’d not had their breakfast yet.

The other photo is Old Burfa, which is medieval and I’m sure I read somewhere lay derelict for many years until an architect moved in and sorted it all out, and a good job he seems to have done.

Unfortunately I can’t remember where or what the church is above. I thought it might have been Knill but it isn’t. It was taken between Lower Harpton and Burfa, and it was some way off… to the east I think although I can’t be sure now. It certainly makes a fine photo, so if anyone knows please let me know.


Along Barland Bank the Dyke is extremely impressive, aided by the (occasional) stream below cutting out a gully. Wooden steps take us up to the top of it, quite some climb, on to duck-boarding to protect it against modern and many boots. The fine views are still with us, although unhelpfully again I can’t remember what the above photo is a view of now. Furrow Hill perhaps…?


Approaching Yew Tree Farm we get a rare glimpse of our old King. Along with a rare spelling of his name. And then we reach the relaxing cooling waters of the River Lugg, crossed courtesy of Dolly Old Bridge. The book says dippers and otters may be seen here so I loitered for a while but see nothing. Maybe they’ve moved on since my aged publications were current!


Some wildlife is out to greet us though – just a sunbathing tortoise-shell bur still very nice. My mind however was soon occupied trying to mentally reconstruct some ancient farm machinery, which alas time did not allow me to achieve.


Lots more fields to cross and lots more views to see, and plenty more Dyke to guide us now for the next couple of miles. All attractive enough of course, but to break things up there’s the odd distraction thrown in along the way. Firstly we pass a monument to an old railway pioneer, cutting a very lonely obelisky-figure in the middle of a field. I did take a not-inconsiderable detour to have a closer look, but can’t find any photos of it, if indeed I even took any. This is it though, for the curious.
Then shortly after that, just across the B4355, is a 19th Century marker stone bearing the inscription “Offa’s Dyke, made in the year AD 757”, a claim which doesn’t impress the guide-book much, but still worth peering through a fence for.
We then at long last spy Knighton and start another long steep end-of-day descent.


Knighton is a very nice little place, full of hustle, bustle and funny cars. But heart-sinkingly not many pubs that are open. I had a wander about, and bumped into another couple of walkers who were troubled by the same dilemma. As the tea-time rain began they decided to head to their evening’s accommodation but I wasn’t so easily beaten. I took a look around the Offa museum, and very interesting it was too, before heading back into town and stumbling across The Horse & Jockey which was not only open, it was dark, warm, quiet and had jocular lavatory door signs! Perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then back up the other side of the valley that I’d come earlier to find my B&B – Whytcwm Cottage – where the charming and very eccentric smocked landlady welcomed me in like a long-lost old friend. This was the only place on the Path that offered me boot-polishing materials. A chance I didn’t turn down. After a tasty tea in the George & Dragon I had a couple more pints in the Golden Lion and got chatting to a couple who were also walking it and were from “up north” too somewhere, I forget where. With each risque joke the Mr told he received a sharp elbow and stern glare from the Mrs. He was in high spirits but was soon not allowed to stay for another. I don’t think he was let out much at home!

Back to Whytcwm and soon to sleep. Half way there! (Almost). Top

On to Part 2. (North)

Home.

The Coast to Coast, May 2010.

The Coast to Coast Index.

Day 1 – St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge, 16 miles.
Day 2 – Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite, 16 miles.
Day 3 – Rosthwaite to Patterdale, 18 miles.
Day 4 – Patterdale to Shap, 16 miles.
Day 5 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen, 20 miles.
Day 6 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld, 13 miles.
Day 7 – Keld to Reeth, 11 miles.
Day 8 – Reeth to Richmond, 11 miles.
Day 9 – Richmond to Ingleby Cross, 23 miles.
Day 10 – Ingleby Cross to Chop Gate, 12 miles.
Day 11 – Chop Gate to Glaisdale, 19 miles.
Day 12 – Glaisdale to Robin’s Hood Bay, 19 miles.

******

Part 2 (East). Keld to Coast.

Looking out over the Wainstones

Halfway there now, and all is going well apart from suffering a bit in the heat. Well into the swing of it, and actually not really wanting it to be over.

Day 7 – Keld to Reeth, 11 miles.

Today was going to be a very short day – the shortest day so far, and indeed along with tomorrow the shortest day of the whole trip. So this us allowed us to have a leisurely start, which was much-needed after the previous night’s carb-loading. (These carbs being derived from malted barley). I was disappointed that the Keld Lodge’s buffet-style breakfast didn’t provide any porridge. The only place that didn’t. Pretty much everything else was there, so everybody else was happy – unless they wanted something cooked to order of course, but I do like my porridge. I think I asked the gaffer there, but was met with short shrift. The manager (owner? or whatever he is) isn’t a man to be questioned. A very rude, puffed-up, arrogant, corpulent chap who cared more for upkeep of his moustache than being genial towards the guests. He was an ex-MP, the military police sort – this was a very rare occasion where I would have much preferred the company of an Honourable Member – but in his mind he seemed to think he still was, and all the paying guests in his Lodge were naughty officers – unpopular with him, but still forced to treated with begrudging minimal politeness.

As I was in no rush to leave I waited for Mike & Alan and was going to walk with them – for as long as I could anyways! While I stood in the doorway surveying the sunny morning I attempted some pleasant weathery small talk with Mr Keld Lodge along the lines of “Looks like another hot one!”. His withering reply was that I should get my hair cut and have a shave. Don’t talk to me like that thank-you very much! As there’s nowhere else really to stay in Keld he’s probably difficult to avoid, so be prepared to be constantly reminded that he’s in charge and hear about what good pals he and Julia Bradbury are. Ah good – here’s Mike and Alan – let’s get away from this man.

We’d originally planned to walk the high way and go past Crackpot Hall and through the desolation of the abandoned lead workings up there. But after some little while of not crossing the Swale we realised that we’d missed the turning, so never mind – there’s plenty worst places to be walking through than Swaledale.


Although it was sunny it was still not too hot at this point, but we hadn’t been going very long and I was already struggling to keep up with Mike and Alan – speeding away from me here on the left. The views over the valley to Crackpot Hall on the right were lovely, so we really weren’t too upset with out unplanned change of plan.

We caught up with Mr & Mrs Larry from Utah again after not long, making slow but steady and determined progress on his poles. After a few pleasantries we left them be. Quite how this generously proportioned fellow coped with the dozens and dozens of narrow stone stiles that seemed to be every 100 yards or so for seemingly most of the valley I don’t know!

A little bit further long the dale I saw something that surely beat Crackpot Hall and the sterile lunar landscapes that we had intended to see. I caught a quick glimpse of something in a tree, or darting towards a tree. A little flash of gingery-brown! “Woaah!” I exclaimed to Mike & Alan “A red squirrel!!”. I had never seen one before, and thought that my best chance was in the Lakes and now gone. Mike and Alan knew their wildlife, Mike (or Alan… I get them mixed up now!) was a dairy farmer and so spent much of time outdoors and was a source of information about all the flora and fauna round and about. But neither had seen what I saw. “Where? Where?” they asked, but I kept my eyes fixed on the little rusty lump and adopted the best stealthy-stalker pose I could and moved towards it…


There he was. Clear as day and as red as United, sitting and scampering about the tree. My mobile phone isn’t really the best photographic instrument for such wildlife photography, so the snaps above don’t really do it any justice. I’m sure he saw me ages before I saw him and he wasn’t hanging around posing for a tourist’s photos and he soon shot off through the trees, along a wall and off away out of my gaze. But I saw him, I saw a red squirrel. I was absolutely thrilled, and one of the highlights of the walk – perhaps the highlight.


Although sunny weather makes for great views, and great photos for me there’s two drawbacks. One is that the rivers look so sad! The poor old Swale looked very sorry for itself, although the 300 year old Ivelet Bridge was still looking fine. The other drawback is, as I found the previous day, the effect it was having on me. Again I was really feeling it.


Approaching Gunnerside we hit 100 miles! The halfway marker. All downhill from here you could say. We celebrated with some homemade lemonade, which I thought was disgustingly sweet – but at least it was cold. And we carried on along the ever attractive dale, although the constant ‘pipitting’ of the many meadow pipits was getting bit tiresome. I’m not interested in your stupid nest! Leave me along, I’ll be gone in a minute!!


As we got near to Healaugh we realised that none of us knew how to pronounce it. I also realised that trying to keep up Alan & Mike was proving increasingly difficult. I wonder I was actually holding them back at bit… anyways we were nearly done for the day now so not to worry.


Eventually I made it into Reeth with Mike & Alan – just about, and I felt like I was burning up. They had got to the pub just before me, and the TWaTTS were there already, or there not long after. But on this – and only this occasion – I wimped out of a manly beer to slake my first, but went for a girly pint of lemonade. The others were in the sunny yard at the front of the pub but I limped off up a cool shady stone passage by the side and slumped to the ground, boots off. The chaps kept coming to check on me, but I knew like yesterday after a rest I’d be ok. After about 20mins and good dose of secret R. White’s I was ok. Although the people passing by asking – nay, implying – that I was resting because my feet were sore were asking for a face full of my fizzy pop.

Reeth is a lovely place, perhaps the most picturesque along the way. Although this meant is was very popular with day-trippers. But I had a good drink in a few of the boozers, and was in bed nice and early – and determined that tomorrow I would not be beat by the heat! Top

Day 8 – Reeth to Richmond, 11 miles.

After really suffering in the heat of the past couple of days I decided that today I would get up very early and hopefully get the lion’s share of the walking done before the heat got too bad again. This meant that I would have to get up before the landlady and make my own breakfast, and she was ok with this but it meant no porridge again! No matter. So after a nice evening sampling the delights of Reeth I was tucked up nice and early. Unfortunately the landlady’s teenage son and a couple of his mates had decided to have a party / sleepover in the dining / living room downstairs, with more partying then sleepovering. Obviously my sleep wasn’t as uninterrupted as I’d have liked. I took much delight at 5am in turning the lights on, walking round them and stepping over them and making my breakfast not quite as quietly as I could have been. Oops sorry about that boys. ha.


Up with the sunrise, the morning was lovely and quiet and fresh as I headed off. A quick detour to get a look at Grinton Brigde showed again how low the Swale was, but the views back along Swaledale were as pleasant as yesterday. But to be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot about this day… I think it being a combination of a very short day and not hugely eventful. I don’t remember it not being a nice though. I remember taking a quick look round Marrick Priory…


And I remember the shady Marrick Wood, with its Nun’s Steps and plentiful wild garlic and bluebells.


I vaguely recall seeing the only road sign for the C2C along the route in Marske, and pretty little beck just outside there.


I do also remember Marske being very pretty, a lovely church of St Leonard the Martyr, and nearly getting caught by an inquisitive Border Terrier with my trousers down underneath Marske Bridge! I definitely remember being intrigued by the public telephone in Marske that with a nod to Schrodinger both did and did not take coins. See here.


Then I remember Mike & Alan catching up as usual, and quickly speeding off. I think they were missing out Richmond today and heading to the next town along, which for me was Ingleby Cross – and I think it was for them too, which would make for a very long day. But they were confident as it’s fairly easy walking so off they I went. I wouldn’t see them again all being well (you know what I mean) so we bid our farewells and I made my way towards the white cairn – a welcome landmark.


From there on it was, if I recall correctly, a long but steady descent in to Richmond. I stopped off along the way for two more of the usual photocalls. A local chap whom I asked to do the honours with the West End Stores photo seemed quite surprised that I’d wanted my photograph taken there, as if I was asking for a photo stood by a dustbin or something.

What I remember very clearly indeed was getting into Richmond at around 11.30am – before the pubs had even opened!! I spent some time watching the Green Leonards Veterans’ Parade go past and then met up with the TWaTTS for a few pints and a Sunday lunch in a Wetherspoons. Amusingly we had to help the lad behind the bar work the till and when the meal came, they’d carefully left the vegetables in the plastic pouches they’d been microwaved in! We chuckled as we tucked in. Still very tasty.

After a rest and freshen up at the B&B I met Tim & Graham back in town later on for a few more drinks round Richmond’s market place, with a few others – Canadians I think. On a nearby table in one pub there was the angriest man I’d ever met, a South African and his very embarrassed wife. He was shouting – to himself presumably – about his dislike for everything. The pub, the beer, the town, the country – and the Canadians. I think we made him angrier by chuckling at him as he left.
Tim & Graham were having a rest day the following day in Richmond so I wouldn’t be seeing them again, again I said more cheerios and headed off to bed. Top

Day 9 – Richmond to Ingleby Cross, 23 miles.

The longest day, and one we’d been talking about but it was fairly easy-going so it’s probably just going to be a head-down and a just keep-putting-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other type of day. After all, we don’t want to have to stop of in Danby Wiske do we!? Or do we. I’ve no idea as it happens.

So off we go, heading off into another clear day past the nice sights of Station Bridge and Easy Abbey.


It gets warm quickly on days like this! Traipsing through the hot flat and somewhat uninspiring farmland was getting a bit boring already! A quick rest in Bolton-on-Swale at the grave of 169 year old Henry Jenkins was in order.


And so it continues… farm after farm and farm. Pointless stiles and humourous signs…

Somewhere round here once again I got very lost… and still don’t quite know how. I was following the path, albeit a bit overgrown but still quite clear, next to a hedge and just plodding on not really thinking about much when suddenly it just ended. I walked back – quite some way… I’m sure this was the right way and I’m sure it was. I think now I might just have missed the overgrown turning I was supposed to take, I can’t really remember. I do remember being jolly annoyed though!


At least there were pleasant distractions along the way, like the treehouse and honesty-box refreshments. These little things do perk-up heat-wary walkers! Muchly appreciated – but I didn’t buy anything mind.


More tedium is broken up by some very tame animals playing round a stile, and by scampering across the East Coast Main Line.


If only all the paths were as obvious as this I’d never go the wrong way! After this we come out onto a road just past Brecken Hill road and I was fortunate enough to just be behind a tractor carrying a large trailer of something white and dusty. Not sure what it was, chalk? fertilizer? Dales cocaine!? but the dust was everywhere. Cough cough. But at least it was something interesting.
And then something even more interesting happened – I started feeling a sharp pain on the end of one my toes. I took my dusty boots off to have a look – and indeed a foot-cool-down – and it turned out I had a blister… under a toenail!! Goodness knows how that happened. But it was treated my normal way, and I resigned myself to losing said toenail at some point but this a small price to pay I suppose.


The last mile of road walking was still pretty tedious though. A quick scamper across the A19 and then it was downhill through Ingleby Arncliffe and into Ingleby Cross’s one pub. And tantalising walk past the 16th Century Monk House B&B – I wish I’d known about this when I booked mine! Not there anything wrong with mine, but 16th Century!!! Top

Oh well, let’s hope tomorrow isn’t so boring – although they do say be careful what you wish for!

Day 10 – Ingleby Cross to Chop Gate, 12 miles.

Another shortish day but there’s a bit of upping and downing involved so it shouldn’t be as dull as yesterday. With a pre-cooked-breakfast early start again I left the B&B when past the water tower and an odd looking outhouse building with curiously high doors – and a curiously high sand bag! Then down the hill and passed others sorting out their bags for the Sherpa people at the Blue Bell and generally faffing about – what a palaver that all looked!


No time to visit the church or Mount Grace Priory I headed straight into the Arncliffe Wood. Usefully my “clever” guide-book had shown a short cut through the woods saving me perhaps ½  a mile or so – it looked steep but half a mile or so is half a mile or so! I should have learned my lesson about steep shortcuts by now – but this one was in guide-book, and I seem to recall on my OS map so I came to it I swung east and followed it.

DSC01302After not very long the path had disappeared but I continued on in the straightest line best I could through the trees. The trees got denser and denser, and the ground steeper and steeper and more uneven. Many trees were fallen or just so dense they were impassable so had be bypassed or clambered over. Or under. The one brief highlight in these woods was a deer darting out right in front my me and then disappearing back into nowhere. The trees by now were so thick I had no idea where I was going so thought about going back – but there was no-way I could recount my steps, every direction looked the same! So I got my compass out and decided just to head due-east best I could and eventually I would meet the path somewhere near the telecoms tower. Then I got to a huge boulder or rocky outcrop on top of a very steep & high drop. No way down there… I headed north a bit. The drop got no better and although I had started descend a bit the terrain and trees forced me back slightly west. I sat down for a bit of rest, hair, rucksack and boots full of little bits of tree and every green which lichen scrapings! I set off again and after a little while went to check my bearing – for what it is worth – and horror of horrors couldn’t find my compass!!! Argh. I must have put it down when I’d had a rest. Now I was really lost! I thought about going back but there was really no way of knowing where I’d come from. “Bugger!” I thought – most inconvenient. I had my Dad’s GPS in the bottom of my bag somewhere just for emergencies – I didn’t think I’d be using it as a compass replacement though.

Once it had fired up I got a shock – the clock on it suggested I’d been in these woods for an hour and a half! And having no watch I believed it. (Turned out it was still on GMT!). Second shock was not being able to get a signal. It’s quite an old handset for GPSs, and turns out it doesn’t get much of signal under tree cover. Great!
But I eventually got enough to get my co-ords and predictably I was nowhere near where I thought I was. But thankfully I wasn’t too far from the track – albeit also not very far at all from where I’d left it! So off I went again, a bit fed up and following the GPS & map made a beeline more or less due south as I recall to get back on route, determined that nothing was going to get in my way.

Then – ALLEJUIAH! Glimpsing up checking for occasional breaks in the tree cover I spotted a tiny bit of the unmistakable red & white plastic warning things they put near overhead cables for the forestry workers, which could only mean one thing – a track!! I knew how sailors drifting in a lifeboat must feel when they sight land! I put the map and GPS away and made straight for it, branches and bracken holding no obstacle for me. To say a I relieved when I back out to the bright, dusty, wide, clear track would be an understatement! And so it would be to say I was a bit annoyed at the guide-book for marking on such a short-cut – one of the reasons why I wouldn’t recommend it.

Having emptied my boots of bits of twig and bark and once back on the rising, curving track I made some good progress and caught up with some others who looked quiet surprised to me behind them. “But you set ages before us!” – “Don’t ask” said my look. The views from the top of the woods of the Vale of Mowbray and the Cleveland Hills made for a refreshing change from the dark imposing gloom in the woods. That’s enough excitement I think!


The walking was pretty hilly, but the path was good and it was ok walking weather. Warm but there was a good breeze up here. A pleasant walk through a much friendlier bluebell carpeted wood was followed by an odd but nice old abandoned wagon at Huthwaite Green. Nice in that it’s mentioned in the stupid guide-book, and is a nice gee-up that you’re on the right path.


A nice easy path takes up to and over Live Moor, nice and exposed up here and there’s many a curious boundary post along the. Well, a few. The one below is quite literally A boundary post. It’s then straight forward over these high moors to Carlton Moor with its gliding club. Bilsdale television transmitter serving the north-east can be see in the distance below.


The views from Carlton Moor are pretty impressive, even with the chemical and steel works of Teesside in the distance. Technically this is our first sight of the North Sea too – but we all knew it didn’t really count yet.


To get to the de rigueur stop off at the Lord Stones cafe, there’s a sudden jolt of civilisation by having to walk through a car-park. I met up with fellow walker Pete here, and shared a cream-tea together joined by a friendly finch. Or should that be cheeky??


No time for a big meal here as I was nearly done for the day. Just another couple of miles along Kirby Bank, a very quick descent and a long trek down the track to Beak Hills farm, my B&B for the night – the building in the middle of this photo:


Can you think of a nicer spot for a night’s rest? No neighbours for… well, no neighbours! The Cooks were very welcoming, the youngish daughter greeted me and showed me my room. And we watched some telly together – my first bit of goggle-box since I walked past a Dixon’s in Carlisle – while Mrs Cook made a delicious roast lamb tea. Mr Cook had taken the others who hadn’t booked an evening meal down into Chop Gate to the nearest pub, which is some way off. Later on Mrs Cook drove me down in the truck bouncing down the stoney track. A dead pheasant lay by the side: “Tomorrow’s tea?!” I joked, “No, too young” expertly replied Mrs C.

The good people of Chop Gate had gathered in the pub to have meeting about getting broadband internet brought to the village – I think the motion was passed. I just tried not to get too drunk while we waited our lifts back to the farm, with partial success. Top

Day 11 – Chop Gate to Glaisdale, 19 miles.

Penultimate day now – you could almost smell the sea air. Almost. All I could smell this morning was my delicious porridge – see what I mean about farmers’ wives?!

Naturally it was another clear bright morning, and these last two days were going to be fairly long. I got away nice and early again from my lovely night’s surroundings. Beak Hills farmhouse is above left, and the view from my window on the right.


No sooner had I got to the top of Beak Hill’s track I was met with a long and steep clamber up Hasty Bank, but to be greeted by the impressive and much noted Wain Stones it’s the worth the clamber. The guide-book says they look like cake decorations but to me they’re more like North Yorkshire’s very own natural Mount Rushmore.
Now we’re up high and again, and wonderfully exposed on a fine warm day on the North York Moors. The views from Clay Bank Top were very nice.


The moors can be feel very open and desolate, but at least on Urra Moor there’s a good selection of boundary posts with queer markings and runes – and even the odd face. What could they mean?? As you plod along the old Ironstone Railway you have plenty of time to ponder it, as although the views are, well, expansive there’s not a lot else to ponder. This slog was pretty rough on the feet and boring on the brain. At least the weather was nice, on a miserable day it would be just that. Somewhere along here I gave in and finally popped my iPod in my ears and entertained myself with some episodes of Whacko! and tried to work who was who in the tiny dots of figures spread out in front of me and behind me. Thank God for Jimmy Edwards!


Gradually the White Lion came into view, although things come into view a long way off up on the moors. When I got there after passing the cock-fighting boundary post I wondered if it was open… but thankfully it was. I guess in these parts front doors are left open! It was lovely, comfy and cosy inside but I didn’t fancy a drink just yet – it was just gone noon. I got myself a cuppa to warm my uppers and slipped my boots outside and cool my lowers.

When the tea had gone down we set off again, with a lengthy trek along a road. The book suggested another short-cut, but I was wise to these by now so we stayed on the tarmac and headed straight for Fat Betty, past a dead adder – another new wildlife experience for me. Well, “wild-death” anyways, although I’m still not sure if it was an adder or just an adder-skin. When I got to Fat Betty I did the traditional food swap thing, that’s probably dates back as far the 1990s. I didn’t fancy the Polos or couple of boiled sweets there but I did leave an unwanted item from packed-lunch for the next walker after one his five-a-day.


Back off the road now and as we pass Trough House, above left, we get our first proper glimpse of the North Sea – ahhhh yes! The end is now in sight. And with Great Fryup Dale just a bit further along a famous and lovely view was also now in sight.

But these moors drag on and on. Why did they make so big!? The North Sea still seems miles away. As does Glaisdale as it happens. But with the head-down thankfully it’s all down-hill now and after what only seems like hours we hit home.


Lovely little Glaisdale, the wild garlic capital of North Yorkshire! No wonder you can’t smell the sea air yet. But then I went right off the place… the bloody pub was shut! Seems modern licensing laws haven’t reached up here yet. My heart sank, a bit. Oh well. Off to the Beggar’s Bridge B&B, which as you might guess is right by the most romantic spot on the whole walk. Awwww!


The lack of a pub was more than made up by the lovely B&B and the best welcoming tea laid on on the whole walk! There wasn’t a drop or a crumb left. Thank you Mrs Rogan.

DSC03233A lengthy soak of achy limbs in the huge en-suite bathtub and I was right and ready to head back to the boozer, where everyone else was too. It being the only pub in the village, but a lovely pub in a lovely village.

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Day 12 – Glaisdale to Robin’s Hood Bay, 19 miles.

The end is nigh! And spirits were suitably high in the pub last night, although they couldn’t be allowed to get too high as today was not a short one. The morning mist soon lifted and just like every other day the sun soon shone through.


Crossing the Esk at a ford – actually I think there was a bridge next to it – took us into Arncliffe Woods. Wait, where did I know that name from?! Thankfully these Arncliffe Woods were a lot more friendly than the last ones!


I had to wander off the path slightly to find the memorial bench to man’s best friend, but glad I did. And Egton Bridge we found that the bridge is not as much fun as the stepping-stones. I needed all my concentration not to tumble into the gushing torrents of the Esk.


Not far from Egton Bridge, past the old Barnards tollhouse, we get to Grosmont – with its lovely old bridge and love old Co-op, and its seemingly lovely old interesting notice board.


Grosmont is the home of the North Yorks Railway, and is well-known to get train spotters very steamed up! The Lord of the Isles was a handsome sight, but the inviting sign to the engine sheds was just too tempting – walk or no walk!!


Ahhhh engine sheds!! Much more fun than walking along roads. But hang on – what’s that smoking over there in the distance…??

Well if it isn’t old Sir Nigel herself!! Fantastic. All steamed up and ready to go, but unfortunately not actually going anywhere for at least half an hour, maybe much longer. Drat it… although I had already spent 45 mins gawping at locos I still had a vague schedule to keep.


Lots more rather tedious road walking, made worse by a self-inflicted wrong turn – or rather missed turning – just outside of Grosmont which probably added a good mile to the day. The walk up to Sleights Moor did give us a glimpse of Whitby Abbey, and another tantalising peak of the North Sea again.

The highly anticipated Low and High Bride Stones were a bit disappointing I must say, and not really worth straying off the path to take a closer look at, as I did. And so the roads and moors and woods go on.


The famed hermitage afforded a nice opportunity for a rest, and a ponder as to its orgins. A 19th Century folly I decided. And Falling Foss would be better with more water falling over it, but you can’t have everything I suppose.

No time for tea at the Falling Foss tea-shop, so we carry on with a nice walk through the rest of Little Beck Wood and on to Sneaton Low Moor. And then Graystone Hills – which are actually more moors.


And are very boggy! Well, very boggy compared to the rest of parched ground we’ve been walking over. This was only the 2nd bit of bogginess encountered, and it made a nice squelchy change actually. I encountered a youngish couple who bizarrely were lost here, and I must admit I’d lost the path too but could clearly the see the road that we were aiming for so told them just walk towards it, like I was. But they didn’t listen – perhaps they’d already heard about my shortcuts! I left them studying their map and was soon at said road – and exciting news! A signpost telling me that the ultimate destination was just 3½ miles away!! A mere stone’s throw… right?


Past a dried up spring, seemingly built by the same folliers who were responsible for the hermitage and by the time we got to High Hawkser I was very much ready for a scone and a cuppa! But annoying the cafe at the caravan park was closed. Grumble. Oh well. Nearly finished now anyways.

Through the somewhat unromantic caravan park (are there any romantic sorts…?) onto the cliff tops heading towards Robin Hood’s Bay – the first sight of which is below right. And here we had only the second rainfall of the trip, not as heavy as the Keld downpour – but much worse!!


Although the rain was quite fairly substantial it looked like it would blow over soon, so although I got my coat out I couldn’t be bothered getting the waterproof strides out too. I was right – it did blow over fairly soon and it brightened up again. But my trousers were soaked, not a problem I thought – they’ll soon dry out. And they did helped by the cliff-top breezes. But this caused my legs to get very cold and a sort of crampy-stiffness set in and the last couple of miles in to RHB were to be a hobbling agony and an embarrassing hobbling agony at that!


On the steepish drop to the sea through RHB I walking very awkwardly indeed – rather like Douglas Bader. Much to the amusement I’m sure of passers-by and other walkers I very much had the look of just having walked 200 miles, when in reality I was fine up until 20 minutes ago. If it wasn’t for the rain – or if I’d put my plastic trousers on – I’d be hopping, skipping and jumping down the hill.


Anyways to the sea I hobbled – thanking the tide Gods that they’d brought it in for me. A very satisfying moment indeed. Some throw their St Bee’s pebble into the sea here, but I romantically picked up another to go with it. I met Pete (from the Lord Stones here) and he’d been carrying a bottle of bubble with him all the way which he shook up and cracked open like a Grand Prix winner!
So having now wetted my boots, my thirst needed wetting too so off to the obvious pub. Quite a few others were in there, and much beer was had safe in the knowledge that no more walking was needed tomorrow, sadly.
But no time to think about the return to grindstone and the odd sensation of getting up in the morning and not pulling the boots on… there’s some lovely pubs in RHB and they all needed checking out along with a large platter of fish & chips.

I don’t think I can imagine a better way to spend two weeks. Is there anywhere lovelier than England? Top


   

THE END.

Itinerary.

Complete photo album of the walk.

Complete photo album of the pubs. (It’s not just about the walking!)

Back to index.

The Coast to Coast, May 2010.

The Coast to Coast Index.

Day 1 – St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge, 16 miles.
Day 2 – Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite, 16 miles.
Day 3 – Rosthwaite to Patterdale, 18 miles.
Day 4 – Patterdale to Shap, 16 miles.
Day 5 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen, 20 miles.
Day 6 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld, 13 miles.
Day 7 – Keld to Reeth, 11 miles.
Day 8 – Reeth to Richmond, 11 miles.
Day 9 – Richmond to Ingleby Cross, 23 miles.
Day 10 – Ingleby Cross to Chop Gate, 12 miles.
Day 11 – Chop Gate to Glaisdale, 19 miles.
Day 12 – Glaisdale to Robin’s Hood Bay, 19 miles.

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Part 1 (West). Coast to Keld.

Fool (me) on the hill (Red Pike)

Fool (me) on the hill (Red Pike)

May the 15th was upon us – Cup Final day no less, but I am ready for fancy footwork of a different kind. Accommodation was all booked (booked before the previous Christmas actually, which was a good idea as some places were already getting full back), and the guide-book bought. I went for the Trailblazers one but with hindsight I wouldn’t recommend it. Luckily I had all the OS Explorers too – these would prove invaluable. I also had A Wainwright’s little classic, but more for bed-time reading than for navigation. For a guide-book I’d suggest Martin Wainwright’s  – no relation – and with this you could happily dispense with the A Wainwright (sacrilege!?) and the OSs.

When I got to St Bees station that afternoon I was bushy of tail and polished of boot, the sun was shining and the air was fresh. And with dozens of others obviously with the same aim as me – some with more luggage than a Victorian empire builder – I wandered off to find my bed & breakfast to ready myself for the mighty adventure that whole world seemed intent on. Top

Day 1 – St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge, 16 miles.

Actually as I got into St. Bees and was settled in the B&B by about 4 or 5 o’Clock, and as the first few miles of the path take you out along a headland in what is basically the wrong direction if you’re intent on getting to Robin Hood’s Bay, I thought I’d get the first bit done that evening. So “Day 1” should really be “Day 0.25” + “Day 0.75”, but I’m glad I did it that way. There was still plenty of light and I would save a couple of hours on “proper day one” tomorrow, and was still back in the pub with plenty of refreshment time to go.

So, first things first – the psuedo-traditional pick-a-pebble and Irish Sea wetting of the boots. At this time of day I was the only person doing this, I expect first thing in the morning fights break out on the beach over the best pebble and you can’t move for boot-dabblers.

pebblewet boots


Just my luck though that the tide was out – a good extra mile round trip and we haven’t even started yet!

DSC02578The clamber up from the shore was steep enough, and got the lungs and legs working hard enough for me to know that the walk had well & truly begun. The views were nice from up here – even Sellafield in the distance looked picturesque.
pebbleThe walk along the cliff tops heading towards Whitehaven was pleasant enough, with the dip down into Fleswick Bay making sure you’re not let off too easily. A suitably windswept sign-post tells us that we’re on the right path as we carry on towards the lighthouse and foghorn station at which we start to head east – at last the right direction! After another mile or so the shadows were starting to get long so when I got on to the road heading back into St Bees I followed it. Pub(s), tea, bed followed that.


Up and away bright and early and feeling rather pleased with myself with my head start as I head off “the wrong way” out of town we’re soon find ourselves up Wainwright’s Passage. You’d think some would clean the sign! And then over the River Keekle. After a couple of small villages and the “Needless Bridge” we’re in Cleator.


I don’t think Cleator likes us very much as it’s just in the wrong spot to actually benefit very much from the hordes of Coast to Coasters tramping through it every day – and not actually spending much there.
The local shop is seemingly fed up with us lot asking for a walker’s most reliable form of long-distance sustenance! And without wishing to sound harsh it’s not the prettiest of places, and walking along quiet urban streets right past people’s front doors booted & fleecey-suited while the Cleatorians go about their daily business feels a little odd.


But we’re soon past the last of these unpretentious little settlements and out into the countryside proper. It’s a long steep climb up Dent Hill but the view over Crag Moor at the top is super. The rush of cool fresh air is bracing indeed. But here I encountered my first problem – blisters! Blisters already on the backs of my heels. After just a few hours! I couldn’t believe it – not ever half way in to my first day and I was beset with blisters already, this didn’t bode well for the next 180 miles! I couldn’t understand it – my boots were new and bought specially for this walk, but they were nicely broken in with lots of canal and Thameside walking. I’d recently walked 18 miles in one day in them with no problems so I reasonably thought I’d be ok on the C2C. What was going on?? Then it occurred to me – The Regent’s Canal and The Thames aren’t known for their inclines, but the C2C is and having just got to the top of Dent Hill I was wondered if my Brasher Hillmasters hadn’t quite mastered hills yet. So I attended to the young blisters (prick, squeeze, clean & plaster is my tried and tested method of blister treatment) and relaced the boots in a slightly different fashion so that the knot was an eyelet lower down, and hence allowing of more to & fro ankle movement which I figured might be more suited to all these pesky hills that I can see looming. It worked a treat – I was to have no more blisters for the rest of the way, well no more “normal” blisters anyways but we’ll come to the abnormal one later one.


Over a huge deer-proof style we head down into Nannycatch. Even steeper on the way down than the way up (a much steeper descent was yet to come, although I was blissfully unaware of this at this time), but the gentle calming babbling Nannycatch Beck at the bottom was very nice. From then on it was a pretty straightforward walk, with only the occasional friendly horse-rider for company, towards Ennerdale Bridge.


On the way we pass the Kinniside Stone circle – dating way back to the early 1920s! To be fair though it was actually just reconstructed then and apparently the stones are now how they were thousands of years ago. I thought I try to see what magical energies could be felt inside the ancient circle and if my bronze age ancestors felt a damp bum sitting here millennia ago then I certainly felt a connection to them. By the time I got down into Ennerdale Bridge my bum had dried nicely and when given the choice of a house of God or a house of public I opted for the latter. I opted both houses of the public as it happens. Then I headed back up in the hill to the lovely Low Cock How B&B, to be welcomed by a very comfy chair and a very radiant log-burner.

Mr & Mrs Bradley looked after us wonderfully, there was about half a dozen of us. And most of us not wishing to walk back down into Ennerdale Bridge dined on the farm – and some lovely home cooking it was too.
Every now & then with a such well-known and popular walk such as the coast to coast you get some – and I use these words advisedly – right idiots attempting it. Mr Bradley told us a tale of not so long he was expecting a guest who hadn’t turned up, a young foreign lady. Long after dark he got a phone call from her saying she was lost and all the info she could provide was that “she was near some trees”. Mr B set off on his quad bike and eventually found her. She’d set off from St Bees with no map, guide-book or compass and was wearing trainers (I think). Mr B put her in a taxi straight back to St Bees and told her to go back from whence she came. She owes him one. Top

Day 2 – Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite, 16 miles.

The good thing about farmhouse B&Bs is that a farmer’s wife always knows how to make good porridge – and Low Cock How was no different. Delicious and readying for a good assault on the first full day of the Lakes.


Ennerdale Water makes for an impressive view, although the water level was obviously lower than it should be. You can’t quite see in the photo but there was snow in a sheltered spot down at the far end of the valley even though it was already very warm. The walk alongside the Water was easy on the eye but quite hard on the feet – very rocky and steep-sided with a bumpy ride and a wet terminus should you slip. The clamber over Robin Hood’s Chair was very tricky, no wonder preferring forests. The mossy woodland towards the far end was very nice though. After passing through The Side, the wide flat valley bottom we cross the River Leeza – also noticably lacking in water.
Just over the Leeza the track passes though a pleasant shady forest. Here I met a chap coming back the other way. He was limping and didn’t half look angry. We stopped and chatted and it turned out that he had started off yesterday from St Bees, like I had, but already had a blistered foot so bad he couldn’t go on any further. He was wearing sandals now and showed me his blister – a huge monster of a thing, pretty much covering the whole side (or sole, can’t quite remember which now) of his foot. Very nasty indeed. He couldn’t understand it he said, much like me on Dent Hill, his boots were brand new, bought only last week! Unlike me though he’d not broken them in at all, just put them on straight out of the box and set off on a 200 mile walk. He seemed quite cross that his boots had let him down so. Clearly another one of the right idiots that Mr Bradley is so patient towards.
Another point of interest to LWDers that must be mentioned I think is that just here just inside a sheepfold as the path emerges from the forest was the only spot I had to improvise an al fresco toilet. I had thought I’d be going through such a process every day, but thankfully this was the only time. Not that it was particularly unpleasant mind you. Anyways enough of such necessities and on with the pleasantries!

At this point the path splits, the low route through the valley past the famous Black Sail youth hostel or the high route over High Stile. I like being up high, so despite Wainwright saying that this was the route for “supermen”, which I’m fairly I’m not, I opted to take the high road. The climb up is about 1400ft from the valley and was pretty hard going “It’s only about two White Nancies!” I kept telling myself. I’d sensibly remember to do the necessary map re-folding before I got to the top as it was bound to windy up there, not the best conditions to be faffing around with a big OS sheet. But when I got up I couldn’t believe it… there wasn’t a breath of wind at all. Absolute silence – you could have lit a candle quite happily. The views were astounding, worth every hot achy step of the way up.


On the left is the view from Red Pike, with Mellbreak ahead, Crummock Water and Loweswater beyond. And the Isle of Man and Galloway in the distance. On the right is Caw Fell and Haycock, and Scafell and Scafell Pike in the distance I think. The photo of the fool on the hill at the top of the page is from here too. I stopped for lunch on High Stile – the highest lunch I was to have.

Further along the ridge I was starting to get fed up with the seemingly numerous ups & downs, but worse was to come. When I got to Haystacks I wasn’t sure if I’d gone the right way or not… my Trailblazer book said some “simple scrambling” was required but all I could see was solid rocks. I couldn’t see any other way round, but other people were here too so I suppose it could have been the right way. Bad luck perhaps?


Anyways, scrambling over them wasn’t at all simple, and by the time I got Innominate Tarn which I thought might be a moving and thoughtful moment I was just very hot, rather bothered, and very tired and very wanting to be in the pub. I sat and rested a little while and took a couple of photos. But then more bad luck – I set off and after a couple of hundred yards realised I couldn’t find my phone! I must have put it down when I was taking photos with it at the tarn, so I traipsed back and looked high and low for it at the spot where I thought I was sat. Couldn’t find it anywhere! Bugger. Then I noticed a hard square lump in my shirt pocket… what it’s doing in there?! I never put my phone in my shirt pocket! Very annoying. But at least I had it. So off we go again. But they say bad luck comes in threes…

The guide-book says the route down past Blackbeck Tarn towards Honister was much simpler than the proper C2C so I opted for this one and started following a clearly marked path. But down in the valley it had completely disappeared, I couldn’t find any trace of it on the ground – and very marshy ground it was too. There were no landmarks to help my work out quite where I was, but to be honest I couldn’t really be bothered. I could see the slate workings above and just made a direct bee-line for them as from there I knew the way down Rosthwaite was simple. But this involved a very boggy march, and a very difficult scramble up a pile of slate spoil – never easy, especially with a huge JCB type thing doing its thing right above me. I didn’t dig that! As I popped up over the top the chap inside had just clocked off and gone, so I avoided having to be told “sorry mate – no daft walkers here!” not that he’d care probably. I was just glad to be back somewhere where I knew where I was. I still can’t figure out what happened between Blackbeck Tarn and Honister to this day. I’ll blame the heat – it was very very hot, and the Trailblazer guide-book – I’m so glad I my OSs with me. Surely no more bad luck for today at least…



Above we’re looking down Warnscale Bottom towards Buttermere and Crummock Water before dropping down and the right is a welcoming sign of knowing where I was in the slate the quarry! Not long for the pub now… I hope!



Walking through the slate quarry was hard on my sore feet and very dusty, hot and boring and when I got to the top of that brow I couldn’t believe how far itstill  was just to get out!!

It was a long long descent down into Rosthwaite, all along roads. My feet were killing me. And it was sweltering, and I was constantly being taunted all the way down by the cool and sparkling freshness of Hause Gill, bubbling and babbling just below the road. Cruel Hause Gill!



Once at the bottom and into Seatoller, just a mile or so short of my accommodation I saw a pub approaching. Oh joy of joys!! It was late afternoon but still very hot, and the tarmac surface down from Honister doing my feet no good at all. The voices in the beer garden and the smell of the barbecue were tantalising, but as I approached I saw a small note in the door… “Closed for private party.” Aaaaagh!! The cruelty and bad luck continues! But I was soon in the company of the quite eccentric landlady at Gillercombe (often to be seen with a parrot on her shoulder), and was soon freshened and in a more public pub. Said landlady was later to give me some very bad navigational advice… Top

Day 3 – Rosthwaite to Patterdale, 18 miles.

The previous evening the landlady armed with numerous maps, both paper and digital, had suggested that I could avoid going via Grasmere by taking a shortcut straight across the valley which would save me a good 3 or 4 miles. Which to me sounded like a good idea, and surely a local experienced walker’s advice should be sound as well. I should have asked myself why the normal route doesn’t go that way in the first place, but the temptation of a short-cut was too great.


The day was bright and clear again, and views up Borrowdale and from Lining Crag (Ivy Knott from Lining Crag on the right above) were very nice – it was long warm slog up though. The numerous waterfalls of Stonethwaite Beck below were not the most impressive they’d ever been – everywhere was very dry.
The path just seemed to keep going up and up and up… to Greenup Edge, which is probably a good 1500ft but again the views down Borrowdale were amazing (even when obscured by an idiot in the way).


It was very hot despite being quite high, trust me – I only ever roll my trousers up when it’s very hot! I suppose someone thought they were being funny by leaving the bottle of ‘Sambuca’ up there, but it’s just littering all the same. I inadvertently added to the littering here though as my watch somehow contrived to fall off at this very spot. I didn’t realise until much later – but I know it was here as a few later I was to meet someone who said he’d seen it by the ‘Sambuca’. Did he pick it up in case he met the owner at some point? No, of course he didn’t. It could be still there for all I know.


It was here too that I first met Mike & Alan, and Tim & Graham, seen to the left here. Pretty much every day I would set off earlier than them but at some point usually around mid-morning they would pace past me two at a time and be waiting in the pub later that afternoon. I walked on from Greenup Edge with two of them – I can’t quite remember who now – before telling them about my clever shortcut. I bid them farewell and headed off over Dead Pike, Brownrigg Moss and Steel Fell. Brownrigg Moss was the second and last bit marshy ground I was to encounter the whole way, and a couple of times went in ankle-deep. Pretty much the rest of the walk I had dusty boots rather than damp boots. The pic on the right is Thirlmere seen from Dead Pike.
The path was fairly clear, and marked on the map and when it did disappear into the marsh there were some boundary posts to follow. So far my short cut was looking very clever indeed. Although I’ve just noticed in my guidebook it says at this point “Withburn Valley – do not go NE down valley!”… I’m not sure where this valley is though, but maybe I should’ve taken heed at the time! Or at least double checked on the OS map exactly how the short would take me where it was taking me.

Suddenly I got to what seemed like the edge of the world. I the And it was quite clear that the path went straight down! It was almost vertical! I couldn’t believe it. No wonder no-one was else coming this way. It was actually the Pass of Dunmail Raise & the A591, with a nearly as bad climb back up Raise Beck on the other side. I looked for a friendlier way down by there wasn’t one, and I’d be buggered if I was going back. So down it was – but what was the parrot keeping landlady thinking!?


I think later on I worked out it was about 800ft descent in little more than 100 yards or so. It really was very steep – the bit I was on was steeper than the bit the sheep is on the above pic. I spent most of it clinging on to a wire fence trying to find ‘steps’ to get down. I followed a stream for a little while but when it turned into a waterfall I had to turn and clamber back up. I’d never been so thrilled to get to the bottom of something as I was when the valley floor leveled out. The whole descent, quick dash across the dual carriage-way and extremely exhausting, and with the hot rocky climb up to Grisedale Tarn was a very unpleasant couple of hours, and probably didn’t even cover more than a mile. The distance was certainly cut short, but I don’t think it made any difference to the time. This was the joint-most unpleasant bit of the whole walk (we’ll come to the other bit in a day or two). So my advice would be not to take this shortcut, and not to take stupid advice. But if only I’d taken my own advice and ignored the next piece of bad advice that I was to get in a couple of sandwich’s time…



Looking up Raise Beck on the left, and boy was I glad to reach Grisedale Tarn! I think that’s Dollywaggon Pike to the left of the tarn and St Sunday beyond.

Just after my tarnside lunch I bumped into Mike and Alan again who were having theirs. Here the path splits 3 ways, Helvellyn, the low way and the St Sunday high way. Like yesterday I was keen to stay high and said as much to Mike & Alan as we were discussing routes. “Oh!” said Mike “you’ll be heading up there then!” pointing up to Fairfield. Probably I thought to myself… it makes sense and St Sunday is in that direction, and headed off blissfull and ignorant up Fairfield. What a stupid stupid idea! Cheers Mike. Although I suppose I am partially to blame for listening to him and not looking at the map.
The clamber up over scree and loose stone was horrible, often requiring all four limbs! But like all big horrible steep climbs on clear days like this, the views once you’re up there almost make it worth while. Actually they make it very worthwhile, even if you’re not supposed to be here.



The views of Dollywaggon Pike on the left, and down Cawk Cove on the right from Fairfield. At 2875ft this was the highest spot on the walk. Well, the highest spot on my walk – as this was the wrong way. I think with hindsight that the figure in red is on the path I should be on – not that I knew it at the time, I just assumed that the unpleasantness of the clamber up was why there was a choice of routes.



The guide-book says that along St Sunday Crag “negligible effort” is required. The rocky outcrop on the right was not negligible at all, specially as it was pretty much a sheer drop on either side. It was now that I was wondering if I come the right way. It turns out that the right way joins the ridge at Deepdale Hause a little futher on, but I was up here now and there was only one to go – onwards! Actually I could have easily gone downwards at a few points, but this would’ve been very rapidly and wouldn’t have been through choice.

At least now the dramas were over for the day, but the walk along St Sunday Crag seemed to go on for ever, with many of those horrible false endings we’re all so familiar with. I think I counted 6 or 7, each more disappointing than the last. But eventually Ullswater came into view – below left, and we started to descend. And we descended and descended… and descended! I’m sure I was going much further down than I’d ever come up. It was painful on the legs, and sore on the feet.


Every step was hurting by the time I got into Patterdale – the steep descents are beginning to take the novelty of taking the high-routes like a hang-over from the fun of the views, although I was cheered a little by the red squirrels crossing sign (not that any crossed my path disappointingly), and was in the pub soon after – and shared my first drinks with Tim & Graham. They were in the Navy, and apparently if you’re called Graham in the Navy you’re called Tug for reasons they didn’t explain. This then caused their initials to be TW and TT, and so they called themselves the TWaTTs! Good lads, and I was to have to fun walking and drinking with them over the next week or so (it was actually more of the latter to be honest…) Top

Day 4 – Patterdale to Shap, 16 miles.

The photo below of Hartsopp Dodd was taken the previous evening I think as I walked up the path to the Greenback Farm B&B, who incidentally told me that they were either too far from Patterdale or that there was no where in Patterdale to eat and therefore I’d pre-ordered an evening meal there when in reality I’d much rather have walked back 15mins or so to the White Lion. Next time!


The start to the last day of the lake district was for a change a little cool and cloudy. The little hamlet of Deepdale Bridge was very quaint as they say, but the skies did seem to be getting less & less quaint all the time. Not as pretty to the eye I thought, but I’d quite welcome a day without sweltering heat. I’d miss the nice views stretching for miles off into the distance of course – but hadn’t quite realised that I’d actually be missing views stretching for more than a few feet!


Over Patterdale Common and across Boredale Hause the tops of the hills were disappearing into the mist, and as I continued up the long and steady climb up to Angle Tarn so was I! It was very blowy too – hence the hat-holding pose. Soon after I had to improvise a chin strap from a spare bootlace. And soon after that the waterproofs were on for the first time – not because it was raining from above but because the wind-blown mist was contriving it to rain from the side. One side of me was dripping wet, the other was bone dry. Once at the top visibility was down to just a few feet, Angle Tarn could’ve been any where!


Round about Satura Crag Alan and Mike emerged from the mist to catch up with me – as usual and we walked along together for the rest of the ridge, along with a few others we picked up in the mist. We marched on along guided by a well-flagged path and occasional cairns. By the time we got up to Kidsty Pike it had got worse and we couldn’t see a thing – including the path! We figured if we just headed due-east we’d be ok as we’d be bound to end up at Kidsty Hawes and Birks Crag somehow. After maybe 20mins or half an hour perhaps of pure compass lead walking we heard voices from out right and as we approached them over the grassy clumps we could make out some figures … who were on the path, which was quite obvious once you were on it. We’d be walking along for perhaps a mile or so only about 20 or 30 feet away from it and had no idea!

Apart from the mist the walk along the ridge wasn’t too bad. The descent down to Haweswater was most unpleasant though. Very steep, very rocky and very slippy. Our little throng of about 8 of us got very spread out going down here.
The walk along Haweswater was pretty long and pretty tedious really, not helped by the damp weather. It’s almost as if the displaced souls of Mardale didn’t want us there!
There were no red squirrels or golden eagles to be seen anywhere. I’d read that here was the most likely spot to see such fine beasts but obviously they were far too sensible to bother coming out on such a dreary day.


At the end of Haweswater is the pretty little prefab village of Burbanks, built for the reservoir builders. I stopped for my lunch here, and was passed again by Mike & Alan who’d had theirs along Haweswater somewhere. Mike was always moaning at Alan for setting such a quick pace, it quite funny – they’d be bickering like husband and wife! He kept up though, but I don’t know why he just didn’t let Alan get on with it and he’d see him later.
Passing through the Haweswater Nature Reserve we leave the Lake District which I suppose you could say is marked by Thornthwaite Force. Despite all hot ascents and painful descents it was quite a sad moment. We all knew that although there was lovely landscape to come we’d seen the best of it already. I can understand why some people like to do east-west and leave the Lakes until last, but for me having to pass – and be moderately polite to – hundreds of people constantly would annoy me muchly! So we bid farewell to the Lakes as the Yorkshire Dales come into view.


As I approached the very Dales-looking Rosgill Bridge I came across three lads who were camping and carrying everything with them in huge backpacks, and they weren’t looking like they were enjoying it too much. I can’t quite remember now who was looking confused at the guide-book, if it was me or them or both us. Or indeed who – if any of us – were unsure which way to go. We both had the same guide, but we noticed at this point the maps were slightly – but significantly – different. I pointed out that mine was a later edition, but this wasn’t good for them. It was for me though. We walked together for a short while and then I went my way and they went theirs – they watched me briefly the same way cattle do. I headed towards Shap Abbey, and after half an hour or so I looked back to see that they’d eventually bothered to come the same way.
Sadly it was getting on now, and I was tired – as usual for this time! The effects of the descent down Birks Crag had not worn off yet! And so into the relatively bustling metropolis of Shap, with its Co-op, chippy and wide choice (3 or 4!) of pubs. And also the charmless New Ing Lodge. But at least it was warm and dry. Top

Day 5 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen, 20 miles.

The longest day so far, but with the ups and downs of the Lakes behind us and with the rolling Dales ahead it shouldn’t be too bad, should it?
I had another nice early start – after the worst bowl of porridge I’ve ever had. I didn’t even finish it. I’m not saying I wouldn’t recommend the New Ing Lodge, but to compared to the nice friendly farmhouse or small urban semi-detached B&Bs elsewhere on the route this wasn’t really my favourite place o’ kip. And as it’s a big place, and room for a few campers too it was very busy in the morning, which resulted in a long spread out stream of us all heading off in the same direction – as I suppose must happen every day of the ‘season’. I don’t like being reminded that there were hundreds of other people doing the exactly same thing as me at the same time. Oh well, head down and head on to the first landmark of the morning.


The first landmark was a big cement works (or similar looking thing), but the 2nd landmark was slightly more attractive – the M6. A very quiet M6 too – but it was probably about 7am. They say that the M6, and later the A1 (or is the A19??) are one-third way markers. My, at times unhelpful, guide-book said that after the M6 we were to pass through “a muddy field with rabbits” – I’d never seen so little mud in any two weeks of my life, and there were no rabbits round anywhere, and then round a hill “with occasional tree left & right”. Very pally but not very useful.

And on it went with its chummy vernacular… I tutted to myself when it then mentioned “look for two isolated trees – one big, one small…”. Then I looked up and saw two isolated trees – one big, one small! I almost take it all back – these two lonely trees, in the above right pic, were another important landmark as there’s not a lot else round here to reassure you you’re not lost.


This is limestone pavement country, and I’m not overly keen on limestone pavements. For me it’s the reverse of most rural landscapery – it’s interesting to look at close quarters but flat, grey and dull from far off. And the novelty of this craggy unfriendly rock formation soon wears – limestone formations should stick to being underground! Quite why people round these parts use lumps of limestone pavement in their garden walls I don’t know – to persuade burglars to use the gate perhaps? Horses for courses – or pavements – I suppose!
And as were out of the Lakes now the C2C sign-posts could begin again, surely no chance of getting lost again! And this one could make a handy mono-pod so some self-timer posing…


So let’s do just that by the famous glacial erratic that EVERYBODY has their photo taken by. The TWaTTs showed me their pics later on of them on the other side pretending to hold it up – much better than my boring leaning idea. Take a tip if you’re reading this before you walk – push the erratic, don’t lean. Makes for a much better photo. And also don’t bother loitering inside an old lime-kiln – as you can see it doesn’t make a very good photo at all.
The scarf and fleece in the ‘on’ position is a rare thing indeed, these high windy moors of Crosby Ravensworth Fell made a nice chilly change to roasting sunshine that we’d had so far. And more of which was to come!


Having managed to miss Robin Hood’s grave, which I can’t remember was by design, having been not enthralled by his chair a little way back, or I just didn’t realise at the time – it would have involved a little detour – I felt I might fall flat as got to Fall Flatt Farm. But the friendly faces at Scarside Farm were a jolly little pick me up. Their two black labs bouncing up and down seemed to have energy levels the polar opposite of mine. At Friar Biggins farm the little lamb’s hunger levels were also the polar opposite of mine as it gingerly approached for a nibble. The unbearable cuteness of forced a little chuckle out of me and away he bounded. That soon someone would be tucking into him much more confidently than he went for my grass if too horrible a thought to bear. A tasty though tho… Anyways, we’re here to walk!


Past farms and barns and walls and fields and stiles and all that kind and trying in vain to see the stone circle at Orton Scar with no joy, we traverse more moor and eventually get to the interestingly named ancient but yet to be excavated Severals Village. Just on from here are the Giants’ Graves & Scandal Beck, in the pic above left. Hopefully these won’t be excavated soon – let sleeping giants lie I say! Shortly after here we see down the valley the lovely Smardale Gill viaduct which thankfully BR let lie too, although much against their wishes.
On the way up the hill here I met Larry and his wife (whose name I shamefully forget) also walking from one coast to the other coast – Larry was a huge fellow hence even with my lumbering gait I managed to catch him up. We exchanged pleasantries and walked along a short while, they were from Utah. He was amazed by the what he could see around him, “But Larry!” I exclaimed “you must have some pretty impressive scenery over there too.”
“Well, we do” he replied, pausing for a breath and resting on his sticks “but not like this – we don’t have these rock walls going all the way the mountains!!”. Larry was clearly – and rightly – impressed by the dry stone walling skills of yesteryear. And impressive they are, as seen below.


I bid farewell to Mr & Mrs Larry, and the rest of the day’s walk was long and not particularly exciting, involving a quite a few long straight roads.


But eventually with a stinging feet that I think came around this time every day I got to Kirkby Stephen, not an unattractive little town. I was amused by what looked to my vivid imagination a ramshackle caravan shop.

I was travelling very light, and carrying everything with me. I had one change of clothes, one for day and one for night – which could be interchanged if need be. By now my clothes needed a wash, and so did I of course, so why not kill several grubby birds with one cleansing stone. The above pic is titled “Doing the laundry coast to coast style, with tea.” Top

Day 6 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld, 13 miles.

Annoyingly despite a very long walk the previous day I didn’t really sleep very well. Not sure why – maybe I was worried about my laundry drying. Which I would have been right to do – as it wasn’t dry by near-morning. At least I could get up very early and check on the it, and then drape shirts & socks over light fittings to try to dry them out. But then was there no chance of me sleeping owing to me cursing these new confounded low-energy light bulbs!! Might be good for the polar bears but no good for drying my socks!

So after yesterday’s longest day, today was the shortest day so far. This has to be a doddle right!? Although there had been a fair bit of chat along the way about the terrible bogs up on Nine Standards Rigg – we’d heard tales of calves being swallowed whole and you’d be guaranteed of going in at least over the ankle/knee/thigh depending whom you were talking to. Exciting – and all in a day’s walking.


First things first, and let’s take a picture of Kirkby Stephen’s famous sign posts, with measurements in furlongs – even if there’s no furlongs to give. Please sir, I want some more – of these. Then on through the very pretty Hartley where Frank’s Bridge takes us over the Eden. It was already getting warm and the morning was still young. I sure even a fish was trying to avoid the glare by loitering in a shadow by the bridge… do fish do this?!

The climb up Birket Hill to Hartley Fell and long and steady. At first it’s on metalled roads and past a quarry but soon opens out into open land. And lovely it is, although it all looks very big and a long way to the top. Predictably Mike & Alan and then Tim & Graham sped past me up the hill and as the Nine Standards first came clearly into view they were already there.


And what a magnificient sight they are! The Nine Standards that is, not us lot!


I was exhausted at the top, it was very warm and there wasn’t much of a breeze up there. We had a few refreshments and a chat, and took the opportunity for some more posing with the Standards, and then we all set off in our own time. Naturally I set off last. No rush is there… certainly not in this heat there isn’t!


As I left the Standards behind and headed across towards White Mossy Hill although it may not look it in the photos above, it was sweltering. I’m not sure what the temperature was, but I’d wager in the 80s easily. I hadn’t seen or heard a telly or radio on since a glimpse of the Cup Final while wandering round Carlisle town centre nearly a week ago, so it could have been a heat-wave going on, or it could just be me being a pansy. Anyways, I felt very hot!


After carefully consulting my calendar so I could select the correct route (to minimise erosion, the need for which is obvious) I marched on. The promised Somme-like bogs were nowhere. Everywhere was as dry as a bone, I was at both disappointed at the lack of the excitement but there again pleased that this made the walking that bit easier. Mind you, I would have loved some rain just now to muddy things up a bit – and cool me off. To be honest I wasn’t feeling too great up here, and had to belt out some marching songs in order to keep me going. A marching song is whatever song you know the most words to at that particular time. I was pleased to pass a “well constructed pillar, made from millstones” to confirm that I was at least getting somewhere, and the guidebook told me I was heading towards a black hut. I saw on the brow of a distant hill a small square block-type thing with two figures walking by it. That must the hut in question with Mike & Alan / Tim & Graham with (I hadn’t seen anyone else anywhere around all day) so made a beeline for it, not taking much notice of anything really, just trying to take my mind off feeling rather dizzy. I didn’t need any maps right now – I just needed to get to my next target.


But disaster!! As I got closer to it I realised this wasn’t the hut at all, which explained also why I was now heading up hill when the hut in question wasn’t on top of a hill at all. I looked round and could see the real black hut clear as heat-hazy-day perhaps 400yds away. What a fool! And that was 400yds as the crow flies, and this crow would have to fly through some very thick long grass, but I went for it. God knows what I’d been aiming at – a grouse butt perhaps? And who were the people I’d seen – what kind of idiot is walking near the coast to coast if they’re not on the coast to coast!? Tut – some people!
When I got to the hut – the above right photo – which by the time you see it is now obvious, I completely flaked out with the heat. I crawled round behind it to try to get some shade, poured water over me, took my boots off and laid down to try to cool off. I felt like I was in Ice Cold in Alex, and getting to this hut had saved my life!! Very melodramatic but I was feeling pretty rough.

After a few minutes I was feeling much better and despite studying my map I couldn’t work how’d I been so stupid to aim for the wrong hut. I’d even crossed the path the real hut was on and wondered what it was! I’ll blame the heat. I didn’t really want lie around too long in case I fell asleep or seized up or something, so I pulled myself back together and soldiered on happy in the knowledge that it was all downhill from here and probably only 5 miles to go.. No problem now surely??

As I walked on after a little while I started feeling awful again, more in mind than in muscle. It was still very hot and I still feeling it. Thank goodness it was all downhill and fairly easy-going.


But when I came to the wooden bridge above, I remember feeling very wobbly going over it. I’m not sure if it was tired legs or me being a bit confused… but I definitely didn’t feel right. I knew I had to have another rest. Mind you, I managed to take a photo so I guess I wasn’t that bad!
A short way after that bridge I got to Ravenseat Farm, which normally sells refreshments and they have some picnic tables set up outside. I took my rucksack off, soaked my hat in peaty-brown water of the Whitesundale Beck, lay it over my face and fell back on one of the benches just past the stone bridge above. I was probably there for 20 or 25 minutes, the longest stop I took on the walk – I don’t think even food stops took that long as I prefer to do little and often when walking. I heard some other people come along and settle at one of the other tables. I couldn’t even muster the energy to lean up and say hello. I heard them saying the farm’s refreshments were closed today because off a funeral. And I think they were talking about the memorial to someone they knew who died walking the C2C a few years ago and is not far from here. Or that might have been someone else who came along after… I can’t really remember now.
Anyways, after a good long rest with a wet hat on my face I felt a hell of a lot better, much to my relief as earlier I was seriously worried if I was going to make it or not! I set up off again, still hot but not so bothered now.


I managed to have a lark around in some abandoned old Land Rovers, so I must be feeling ok now. I think this little bit of silliness helped perk me up a bit too. Again the rolled up trousers and un-buttoned shirt show how hot it was – there was no-one around to show off any medallions too! – these photos what with their clouds don’t really do it justice. Unless it was just me having a funny turn… I should really try to find out what the weather was doing in the north of England, 21st May 2010.


A little bit further on and I almost had a spring in my step now. I passed a farm and wondered what the tall thing door atop a some stairs was for… answers on a postcard to the usual address.
Before long I was down by the Swale and almost home for the night. But as you can see the poor Swale needed a drink nearly as much as I did!


Wainwrath Force was proving the old addage that waterfalls look better when they have water in them. Maybe it would get some sooner than we’d expect!

The last few hundred yards along the road seemed to drag on forever and Tim & Graham were already at the Keld Lodge with their usual ciders – one pink, one yellow – so naturally I joined them for similar but barley-based refreshments. By the time I got there I was feeling ok again, so my tales of near death from heat-stroke on the tops didn’t convince anyone. And after a couple of pints I was quite literally as right as rain, as all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere came a torrential downpour. It was still warm of course so we stayed outside under the brollies, with water streaming off everything all around us.

Now came the funny bit… by now we at least knew quite a few of each other and the ones who got into town / pub first would give a hearty greeting to the others as they turned up, knowing exactly where everyone else had been. But today there was only one destination really, and as everyone else started turning up here some of them decided it wasn’t worth putting waterproofs on, as they were packed away or that the rain would pass any moment. Some folk had foolishly thought there was no chance of rain and packed their waterproofs in the big bags for the Sherpa van people to carry for them. (Amazingly, I talked to a couple who had a fresh change of clothes for every night they were here!) It raised my spirits to see others getting drenched in the rain that I’d be wishing for earlier. The more bedraggled they were the heartier the greeting from us dry on the outside and a couple of pints wetter on the inside!

Then three black open top sports cars roared past, AC Cobras I think. We cheered and raised a glass as they went, and they sportingly raised a soaking wet horn-honk back! A wholly-pleasant end to a half-pleasant and half-very-unpleasant day. As the Keld Lodge was pretty much the only place in Keld there was a good atmosphere here that night, and we all had a nice drink. Top

The fun continues… with part two.

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